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AGLO 1980 No. 19 - April 30, 1980
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- PROSECUTING ATTORNEY ‑- JUVENILE ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- RELEASE OF JUVENILE RECORDS TO SCHOOL DISTRICTS

A prosecuting attorney who is in possession of records or other documentary evidence relating to an alleged offense by a juvenile to which chapter 13.50 RCW applies may not, on that basis, release those records or documents to an attorney representing the local school district, one of whose schools the juvenile in question is attending.

                                                                   - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                   April 30, 1980

Honorable Arthur R. Eggers
Prosecuting Attorney
Walla Walla County
407 Drumheller Building
Walla Walla, WA 99362                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1980 No. 19

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your request for our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Where a prosecuting attorney is in possession of records or other documentary evidence relating to an alleged offense by a juvenile to which chapter 13.50 RCW applies, may the prosecuting attorney, on that basis, release those records or documents to an attorney representing the local school district, one of whose schools the juvenile in question is attending?

            We respond to your question in the negative for the reasons set forth below.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            As defined in RCW 13.50.010(1)(a), the office of a prosecuting attorney which is in possession of such juvenile records as you have described constitutes a "juvenile justice or care agency."  Accordingly, in permitting (or not permitting) access to those records, the prosecuting attorney is governed by RCW 13.50.050 which first provides that the ". . . official juvenile court file of any alleged or proven juvenile offender shall be open to public inspection, unless sealed pursuant to subsection (11) . . ." and then says that:

            "(3) All records other than the official juvenile court file are confidential and may be released only as provided in this section and RCW 13.50.010."

            Our review of the remainder of RCW 13.50.050, as well as the various provisions of RCW 13.50.010, reveals nothing which would permit or justify the release of otherwise "confidential" records or information on the basis that the entity or person requesting access to the records is a public school district and/or its legal counsel.

            Under RCW 13.50.010(5) and (6), there are certain stated circumstances under which access to the records of a "juvenile justice or care agency" may be obtained by the alleged juvenile offender, by his or her parents, or by any other person having cause to believe that those records contain information pertaining to that person.  In addition, RCW 13.50.010(8) allows access to such juvenile records on a qualified basis for research purposes if (but only if) ". . . the anonymity of all persons mentioned in the records or information will be preserved . . ."

            Likewise, RCW 13.50.050 allows limited access to records of a juvenile justice or care agency (i.e., the prosecuting attorney's office in the instant case)‑-

            (a) Where requested by another juvenile justice or care agency in connection with an investigation or case involving the same juvenile which is being pursued by that other participant in the juvenile justice or care system;

            (b)Where the identity of the alleged juvenile offender is requested by the victim of the crime or the victim's immediate family; or

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            (c) To the public, generally, where (but only where) the information released ". . . could not reasonably be expected to identify the juvenile or the juvenile's family . . ."

            Within these three further areas of possible permissible release under RCW 13.50.050, however, none would appear to us to apply to the circumstances described in your letter.  In fact, the only one having any possible viability would be (a) if the school district involved could be said also to be an ". . . other participant in the juvenile justice or care system . . ." and, in addition, could be deemed to be engaged in ". . . an investigation or case involving the juvenile in question . . ." RCW 13.50.050(4),supra.  In order to thus qualify, however, the school district would have to come within the definition of the term "juvenile justice or care agency" in RCW 13.50.010(1)(a).  And that definition, while (as above noted) including the prosecuting attorney's office, does not appear to us to encompass a school district merely because a given juvenile is attending a school in that district.  Specifically, RCW 13.50.010(1)(a) reads as follows:

            "(a) 'Juvenile justice or care agency' means any of the following:  Police, diversion units, court, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, detention center, attorney general, the department of social and health services and its contracting agencies, and persons or public or private agencies having children committed to their custody;"

            We have not overlooked the final reference in this definition to ". . . persons or public or private agencies having children committed to their custody . . ."  Children attending the public schools of our state, however, are not "committed to the custody" of the governing school district in the sense that this terminology is thus used.  Instead, it is our opinion that this facet of the definition refers only to such persons or agencies as may have supplanted the child's parents or guardian as custodian as under a court order entered under RCW 13.34.050.1/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILLIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/RCW 13.34.050, a part of the chapter known as the "juvenile court act in cases relating to dependency of a child and termination of a parent-child relationship," reads as follows:

            "The court may enter an order directing a law enforcement officer, probation counselor, or child protective services official to take a child into custody if a petition is filed with the juvenile court alleging that the child is dependent and the court finds reasonable grounds to believe the child is dependent and that the child's health, safety, and welfare will be seriously endangered if not taken into custody."

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