Record-breaking judgment against DSHS

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by NATASHA RYAN / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on November 18, 2011 at 10:36 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 18 at 11:47 PM

TACOMA, Wash. --  A record-breaking penalty against the Department of Social and Health Services was handed down Friday. The state’s largest agency was ordered to pay out $650,000 for violating the state’s Public Records Act. The judge said the penalty needed to be stiff to deter similar behavior from DSHS.

Amber Wright is capable of a smile but her adopted mother, Michelle Bossard, says Amber’s history is one that could bring almost anyone to tears. Amber described it, “Being sexually abused by my real father, being hit all the time, being forced to take drugs.”
 
For years, David Wright didn't allow Amber a normal childhood. Crying, she said, “You see all these other with their parents loving on them. I had never had that.”
 
Wright filed a lawsuit against DSHS for failing to protect her from the abuse, claiming they ignored multiple red flags. She also filed a public records request to get her file. Bossard says Amber was searching for answers, “How DSHS had a chance to take her out of a severely abusive home and didn’t?”
 
To Amber’s attorneys’ surprise, even though DSHS said it had released all the records, pertinent documents were left out of Amber’s file. Things like an audio file from an interview she did with police, chronicling the abuse.
 
Attorney David Moody then in turn filed another lawsuit, saying DSHS violated the Public Records Act by with-holding those documents. 
 
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frederick Fleming said, “In this court’s judgment, this was an unbelievable obstruction of justice.” Fleming ordered the state to pay $650,000. It's the largest amount of penalties imposed for this violation in state history.
 
Moody says, "This was the most stinging rebuke of state government and open records the state has ever seen.”  Moody says he gave the state multiple opportunities to settle this for $75,000 and multiple times was turned down. “The Attorney General’s Office could have saved taxpayers of this state hundreds of thousands of dollars by simply admitting their errors and moving on.”
 
Assistant Attorney General John Clark says DSHS will appeal immediately. 
 
Amber’s civil lawsuit against DSHS for failing to protect her goes to court in May. Her father David Wright was convicted of child molestation, served almost three years and is now out of prison. Amber says at first, she was afraid to go on camera but says it’s worth it if she can inspire kids being abused to get help.

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