Also introduces proposals to record executive sessions, reduce lawsuit costs at state-funded hospitals
OLYMPIA – Tracy Lundeen and Ken Paulson experienced a kind of terror that, fortunately, most people will never know. Tracy was stalked for nearly two decades by a boy she met when she was just 13.
“I spent a few minutes helping a fellow student - a stranger - with his homework,” Lundeen said. “He spent the next 19 years stalking me. That kind moment turned into a living nightmare that has controlled every aspect of my life.”
Paulson’s worst fears about his daughter’s stalker came true. Jennifer Paulson was shot and killed by Jed Waits, who was lurking outside of the school at which Jennifer worked, on Feb. 26, 2010. Paulson and Waits had worked together during college.
In both cases, the victims were stalked by acquaintances. Because there was no dating or family relationship involved, existing legal protections – designed mostly for domestic violence cases – were insufficient.
“What happened to these young women can happen to anyone,” McKenna said. “Acquaintances, who received only kindness and courtesy from these women, turned into dangerous stalkers. It exposed a weakness in state law we intend to correct.”
The AG’s proposed legislation creates a new stalking civil protection order, based on the state’s sexual assault protection order and allows prosecutors to charge those who violate the order with either a misdemeanor or a felony, similar to existing penalties for violating sexual assault or domestic violence protection orders. It authorizes electronic monitoring as a condition of pretrial release upon arrest for felony violation of a protection order, or when a no-contact order is issued.
The Attorney General’s bill also ramps up penalties for stalking. It changes felony stalking from a class C felony offense to a class B, increasing the maximum penalty from a five-year sentence to 10 years. It also creates a new aggravating factor for stalking, which allows courts to impose a sentence outside the standard range.
“My daughter's stalker was charged with a misdemeanor, almost like jay-walking,” Paulson said. “I believe this bill will set the framework for providing additional protection for victims.”
David Martin, A deputy prosecutor at the King County Prosecutor’s Office, handles stalking cases and helped develop the Attorney General’s proposal. “By the time victims call the police, the stalking behavior has been well established and the victim’s attempts to stop it have failed,” Martin said. “This is exactly when victims need a strong response from the courts.”
Both Paulson and Lundeen agree with Martin. “The judicial system has not, until now, made any attempts to protect victims such as myself though the consequences can be lifelong and, for some, fatal,” Lundeen said. “Because I refuse to be another statistic, I am supporting this legislation to protect innocent victims such as myself.”
McKenna also announced two other legislative proposals – one to promote government transparency and the other to save money at publicly funded medical facilities.
Recording executive sessions
Attorney General McKenna and State Auditor Brian Sonntag propose to create an exemption under the public records act to allow government bodies to record executive sessions – closed meetings called to discuss sensitive matters that, if discussed publicly, could negatively impact the public interest. In 2008, the Attorney General and the state Auditor introduced legislation requiring elected officials to record executive sessions and making those recordings a public record subject to disclosure only under court order. That legislation faced heavy opposition from some elected officials.
Allowing — rather than requiring — government to record executive sessions without fear those recordings will be automatically subject to the public records act creates several benefits, including:
- Creating a historical record that may be used by members to understand the basis of a prior decision.
- Providing greater accountability for advice received by an attorney in executive session.
- Allowing a governing body to review and refute an allegation of a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act during an executive session.
- Allowing a governing body to correct mistakes and be more accountable.
“This is one situation in which an exemption actually serves the interest of transparency,” McKenna said. “Current law discourages these meetings from being recorded because local officials worry every word —including sensitive information – will be disclosed.”
Reducing Hospital Lawsuit Costs
McKenna pointed out that medical malpractice lawsuits cost the state and public hospital districts millions of dollars to defend. Yet publicly funded hospitals are at a disadvantage when it comes to resolving lawsuits. At least one Superior Court Judge has held, in McDevitt v. Harborview Medical Center, et. al., that plaintiffs who assert healthcare claims against a public hospital are not subject to any pre-filing notice requirements. Under this decision, the first notice public hospitals receive of a lawsuit is after it has been filed.
McKenna proposes clarifying the law requiring pre-filing requirements to allow hospitals to investigate and settle claims before they end up in court. “When claims are settled before a lawsuit is filed, taxpayers save significantly,” McKenna said.
The University of Washington, represented by the Attorney General’s Office, finds that settlements on claims resolved before litigation cost almost five times less than settlements made after a lawsuit is filed. In addition, resolving claims before a lawsuit is filed saves on legal fees, which can average over $60,000 per lawsuit.
Since 2005, the Legislature has passed 44 of McKenna’s bills, with dozens of sponsors from both political parties. In the coming days, the Attorney General’s Office will announce sponsors for this year’s bills. The Legislative session begins on January 9.
Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725