ELLENSBURG, Wash. — Portions of a Yakima County investigative report into a sexual harassment complaint against county Clerk Kim Eaton has been ordered released.
A Kittitas County Superior Court judge, in an order issued Thursday, agreed to black out parts of 15 individual documents the county human resources department prepared during the investigation last fall.
Judge Frances Chmelewski ordered the county to provide the documents by late today. However, their release could be delayed to give Eaton time to decide whether to appeal the order.
The Yakima Herald-Republic had sought the investigation report and all other associated material, which turned out to include 95 text messages Eaton sent to a male subordinate before he filed a sexual harassment complaint last September. Eaton hired the employee, who she described in court filings as a longtime friend and business associate, to work in the clerk’s office in about 2005.
The employee filed the complaint, asking that Eaton limit her communication with him to work-related topics. The complaint was eventually resolved without further action. Both still work in the office.
Chmelewski ruled Tuesday the text messages are public records, but she blocked the county from releasing them, concluding disclosure would violate Eaton’s right to privacy. The judge said the texts can be exempted under the state Public Records Act because a reasonable person would find them “highly offensive” and they do not contain matters of legitimate public concern.
Tyler Hinckley, a Yakima attorney representing Eaton, said Thursday afternoon he has not had a chance to discuss a possible appeal with Eaton, who is on medical leave.
Hinckley said he may request a clarification from Chmelewski because her two-page order was silent on his request that release of the county’s investigative records be stayed for 30 days to give him time to appeal.
The judge did agree to order the redaction of portions of three of the investigative documents because of the right to privacy. Hinckley had requested Chmelewski black out the names and initials of all people mentioned in the county’s investigative report, saying such disclosure also would violate Eaton’s right to privacy. But Chmelewski disagreed, saying the threat of a privacy invasion had not been established.
The Herald-Republic filed a public records request for release of the investigation in early January. Eaton then filed suit in Kittitas County Superior Court seeking a temporary restraining order to block release after the county notified her of plans to satisfy the newspaper’s request. She later obtained a preliminary injunction for two weeks pending a hearing Tuesday for attorneys to argue their cases. The case was filed by Eaton’s attorney in an adjacent county because Yakima County is a defendant.
Eaton, a Republican, was appointed county clerk in 1992 and elected to the position two years later. She has won re-election every four years since.
The employee who filed the complaint has been described as a friend of Eaton’s as well as her insurance agent, according to court documents filed by Eaton’s attorney.