Spokane Settles Records Case Involving ‘Spokesman-Review’ Owners

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By: E&P Staff

The city of Spokane has settled a five-year-old public records lawsuit with an online magazine that was investigating a downtown parking garage and mall developed in a public/private partnership between the city and the Cowles Publishing Company, the family-owned publisher of The Spokesman-Review.

Under the settlement, the city agreed to pay $152,000 in penalties and $147,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. The city also apologized for withholding the records from Camas Magazine and its journalists, Tim Connor and Larry Shook.

“This was a misuse of the attorney/client privilege and a violation of the Washington State Public Disclosure Act, and the City of Spokane deeply regrets it,” the city said in a statement. The settlement was approved by a 6-1 vote of the Spokane City Council last week.

At issue were records related to the so-called River Park Square controversy. Camas sued to get the documents in June 2001, and the case was scheduled to go to trial Oct. 16.

The documents all became public during the numerous federal and state lawsuits spawned by the development. A parking garage built for the mall was never able to pay for itself, leading bondholders to claim they had been defrauded. The city eventually settled with bondholders for $40 million.

The role of the Spokesman-Review in the controversy has also been vigorously debated locally, with Camas and a now-defunct Spokane alternative paper frequently charging that coverage was either biased in favor of the Cowles family development companies, or ignored stories that might place the family in a bad light.

This summer, the newspaper asked the Washington News Council to review its coverage of the controversy, and make a report, which it has promised to make public.

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