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CHRISTINE GREGOIRE, Washington Attorney General, and NORM MALENG, King County Prosecuting Attorney, personally and in their official capacities, together with others similarly situated.





   No. __CV 02-1112C








Plaintiff William Sheehan, by and through his attorney of record, Elena Luisa Garella, brings this Complaint against the Defendants, agents and successors and in support thereof avers the following: 


1.       This action challenges the constitutionality of an Act of the Washington State Legislature entitled Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6700 (Chapter 336, Washington Laws of 2002) (the “Act”), which becomes effective on June 13, 2002.  The Act creates a cause of action for declaratory and injunctive relief, and monetary damages, for any person who “with the intent to harm or intimidate” releases certain information about law enforcement or court-related employees or volunteers and categorizes them as such.


2.       Jurisdiction is conferred on this Court by existence of a federal question and questions arising under particular statutes, to wit, the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(a)(3), and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1988.

3.       Plaintiff’s claim for declaratory and injunctive relief is authorized by 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, and by Rules 57 and 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


4.       Plaintiff is a resident of the State of Washington and the owner, operator and the primary author of several Internet websites, including but not limited to (“the website”).  Representative portions of that website, as it appeared on May 20, 2002, are appended to this Complaint as Exhibit A.

5.       Defendant Christine Gregoire is the Washington Attorney General.  She is the chief law enforcement officer and attorney for the State of Washington, and is authorized to control and direct Washington prosecuting attorneys in civil proceedings in which a county may be a party.  RCW 36.27.020.  She is further required to aid any prosecuting attorney in the discharge of the prosecutor’s duties upon command of the Governor.  RCW 43.06.010.

6.       Defendant Norm Maleng is the King County Prosecuting Attorney.  He is the chief law enforcement officer of King County and is specifically vested with the authority to enforce the Act through his office.


7.       Plaintiff’s website is critical of a variety of police agencies, and calls for greater public accountability by police officers.  Portions of the website are devoted to the listing of the names, home addresses and home phone numbers of police officers in the Puget Sound, Washington, area.  The website states:

It’s not the intention of this site to provide information so that others can misuse it.  Indeed, it is provided to you so that it may be used in conjunction with legal processes and for general information we as employers require in order to supervise our public servants.

8.       The website has remained unchanged in all material respects since it was launched in March, 2001, with the exception of the removal of social security numbers in May of 2001 pursuant to an preliminary injunction ordered by the King County Superior Court in pending tort litigation brought by the City of Kirkland and four of its employees.

9.       Addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers and other personal identifying information are easily obtained through a large number of public and private sources.  Plaintiff obtained the vast majority of the information on the website through freely available government records, including but not limited to, county property records, state and federal court records, voter registration records, and through public disclosure act requests (Rev. Code of Wash. § 42.17 et seq.).  Plaintiff purchased other records through commercial brokers of consumer information.

10.     Since its inception, the website has been the subject of considerable community and national political debate, with police agencies and police supporters generally decrying the alleged loss of privacy engendered by the website, and others applauding the site’s message of officer accountability and the assistance it gives those who have had trouble serving legal process on police officers.  Newspaper articles, radio talk shows, and internet discussions featuring the website have appeared throughout the United States.  See Exhibit A (sample of articles). 

11.     The Washington State Legislature’s response to the website was to pass the Act.  (The companion bill in the House of Representatives was denominated House Bill 2947.) ESSB 6700 unanimously passed the Washington House of Representatives and Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Locke.  The full Act is as follows:

          Sec. 1.  A person or organization shall not, with the intent to harm or intimidate, sell, trade, give, publish, distribute, or otherwise release the residential address, residential telephone number, birthdate, or social security number of any law enforcement-related, corrections officer-related, or court-related employee or volunteer, or someone with a similar name, and categorize them as such, without the express written permission of the employee or volunteer unless specifically exempted by law or court order.

          Sec. 2. (1)  Whenever it appears that any person or organization is engaged in or about to engage in any act that constitutes or will constitute a violation of section 1 of this act, the prosecuting attorney or any person harmed by an alleged violation of section 1 of this act may initiate a civil proceeding in superior court to enjoin such violation, and may petition the court to issue an order for the discontinuance of the dissemination of information in violation of section 1 of this act.

          (2)  An action under this section shall be brought in the county in which the violation is alleged to have taken place, and shall be commenced by the filing of a verified complaint, or shall be accompanied by an affidavit.

          (3)  If it is shown to the satisfaction of the court, either by verified complaint or affidavit, that a person or organization is engaged in or about to engage in any act that constitutes a violation of section 1 of this act, the court may issue a temporary restraining order to abate and prevent the continuance or recurrence of the act.

          (4)  The court may issue a permanent injunction to restrain, abate, or prevent the continuance or recurrence of the violation of section 1 of this act.  The court may grant declaratory relief, mandatory orders, or any other relief deemed necessary to accomplish the purposes of the injunction.  The court may retain jurisdiction of the case for the purpose of enforcing its orders.

          Sec. 3.  Any law enforcement-related, corrections officer-related, or court-related employee or volunteer who suffers damages as a result of a person or organization selling, trading, giving, publishing, distributing, or otherwise releasing the residential address, residential telephone number, birthdate, or social security number of the employee or volunteer in violation of section 1 of this act may bring an action against the person or organization in court for actual damages sustained, plus attorneys' fees and costs.

          Sec. 4.  Sections 1 through 3 of this act are each added to chapter 4.24 RCW.

12.     The specific purpose and intent of the Act is to compel Plaintiff to redact large portions of the website.  The legislative history of the Act establishes that the Plaintiff and his specific website were the impetus for passage of the Act, and that the website will be considered in violation of the Act upon the effective date.  See, Exhibit B to this Complaint (Senate Bill and House Bill Reports, referencing Plaintiff’s website).  During a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Representative Dickerson described Plaintiff’s website as evidencing “a clear intent to intimidate police officers.”  When asked how one would prove intent, another representative stated “If you see Mr. Sheehan’s website I think it would be pretty easy to prove intent there.”

13.     Furthermore, the legislature specifically exempted other persons and organizations who make the same personal information available to the public.  At the same House Judiciary Committee meeting, Representative Dickerson admitted:

. . . the [prohibited] information is going to be out on the web . . . in a couple, three clicks [on the Internet] you can probably get it.  And we just felt that to move forward with this bill that the intent to intimidate or harm had to be an element so that the bar was high enough to address some of the concerns that were raised by the local governments and by the folks that Mr. Thompson [lobbyist for Allied Daily Newspapers] represents.

14.     At the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, one senator complained that intent language had been added to the bill.  He noted “I don’t think people ought to be disseminated your social security number and be penalized only if its intending to harm you...”  This objection was rebutted with:

The concern regarding [the original bill] was that it was so open-ended that a marketing company could get a hold of your name, your address, not know that you’re an law enforcement officer or that you work for the court as a volunteer and they could disseminate it to someone for magazine subscriptions or what ever and they would have been guilty under the original act . . . 

15.     Another senator pointed out :

 . . .part of the problem with the underlying bill if you don’t have intent is the fact that that all of our counties collect all kinds of information whether it is the auditor, your voting records . . . the court clerk files, all of the assessors files, all of those are online and available to people. . . 

16.     In other words, the Legislature purposefully created tort and injunctive remedies based on the alleged subjective intent of the author, crafting the statute such that commercial and governmental entities that provide the same information are exempted from its terms.

17.     A number of law enforcement officers from King County and the State testified in support of the bill, including Kirkland Detective Donald J. Carroll and Kirkland Officer Philip Goguen, Port of Seattle Police Officer Michael Transue, Seattle Police Officer Craig Price and Eldon Vail, an officer with the state Department of Corrections. 

18.     Defendant Norm Maleng, through his office as King County Prosecuting Attorney, has established a record of hostility towards Plaintiff’s right to maintain the website, asserting that it is “inflammatory,” “shock[ing]” and that posting the home addresses and maps to the homes of law enforcement officers “would pose serious threats to officer safety” and that “there is no legitimate public interest in the residential addresses . . . of police officers.”   Mr. Maleng’s office has sued Plaintiff pursuant to Washington’s Public Disclosure Act (Rev. Code of Wash. § 42.17 et seq.) for an order releasing the County from its obligation to provide Plaintiff with the names of police officers.  This issues relating to the PDA suit are currently before the Washington Court of Appeals, Division I, Case No. 48161-4-I.

19.     Upon information and belief, unless restrained by order of the Court, the Defendants will perform their official duties to ensure that the Act is enforced and will ask the courts of Washington to issue injunctions against Plaintiff and any other person publishing the information prohibited by the Act where the Defendants believe that the information is distributed with “intent to harm or intimidate,” thereby causing an irreparable loss of First Amendment rights to the Plaintiff and others similarly situated.


20.     This is an action for declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202, of an actual substantial justiciable controversy as alleged in paragraphs 1 through 19, set forth above.  Plaintiff seeks judgment that the Act is unconstitutional, both facially and as applied to the Plaintiff and his website, because the Act violates Plaintiff’s (and all persons’) right of free speech guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution for the following reasons (and additional reasons not listed):

          A.        The Act is an impermissible content-based regulation of speech.  The Act specifically prohibits the publication of information about law enforcement, corrections and court- “related” personnel, volunteers, or “someone with a similar name,” information that is legal to publish in other contexts, such as in collection of debts, testimony in court, and reporting of news.  Such content-based regulations of speech and expressive conduct are presumptively invalid.

          B.        The Act solely protects two special groups – law enforcement and court employees.  Statutes protecting specific groups from alleged offensive speech violate the First Amendment.

          C.        The Act is not viewpoint-neutral.  The Act focuses on the intent of the publisher, rather than the actual effect of the speech.  The State of Washington may not regulate speech based on hostility – or favoritism – towards the underlying message expressed or the identity of the person speaking.

          D.        The Act suppresses truthful information of interest to the public.  The First Amendment prohibits any attempt to punish the publication of lawfully obtained, truthful information about a matter of public interest absent a need to further a state interest of the highest order.  No state interest of the “highest order” can be shown because the same information is widely available through local, state and federal sources and in the private marketplace, and the publication of such information is not prohibited or regulated by the Act.

          E.         The Act permits the prior restraint of speech by endorsing injunctions of speech where it appears that any person or organization is “about to engage in any act that . . . will constitute a violation.”  The Act  places an instrument of punishment and censorship in the hands of the prosecuting attorney or any person affected.  Such governmental censorship power is inimical to protection of free expression.

          F.         The Act prohibits speech that does not constitute a clear and present danger and is permitted under the U.S. Constitution.  Government may not proscribe advocacy of even illegal activities except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

          G.        The Act singles out speech on a particular subject for a financial burden that is it places on no other speech, which is presumptively inconsistent with the First Amendment.

21.     Plaintiff seeks further redress against enforcement of the Act pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.  The Defendants’ actions in suppressing Plaintiff’s website will deprive Plaintiff of his rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution and Laws, as described above.  Furthermore, the Defendants’ unconstitutional actions are taken under color of state law, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983.  


22.     Plaintiff incorporates by reference paragraphs 1 through 21, set forth above.

23.     Plaintiff further seeks declaratory judgment that the penalty and injunctive relief provisions of the Act deprive Plaintiff and all other persons in Plaintiff’s position of due process of law, in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.  The Act fails to provide adequate notice as to the precise nature of the conduct prohibited, thereby inhibiting the exercise of constitutionally protected rights and inviting selective, ad hoc and arbitrary prosecution.  The Act is therefore void for vagueness.

24.     Plaintiff seeks further redress against enforcement of the Act pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.  The Defendants’ actions in suppressing Plaintiff’s website will deprive Plaintiff of his rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution and Laws, as described above.  Furthermore, the Defendants’ unconstitutional actions are taken under color of state law, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983.


25.     If the Act is allowed to continue in effect or be enforced, Plaintiff and all other persons similarly situated will be subjected to immediate and irreparable injury for which no adequate remedy at law exists in the following respects:

          A.        Plaintiff will be forced to shut down large portions of the website.  The purposeful unconstitutional suppression of speech constitutes irreparable harm.  Loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury;

          B.        Plaintiff will face an injunction and civil liability if he does not comply with the Act without the benefit of clear guidance regarding what speech and what intent when uttering said speech is permissible;

          C.        Plaintiff and similarly situated persons will be forced to censor their speech and free speech rights thus will be chilled;  and

          D.        A gross, unnecessary waste of public funds and court time will occur if the Act is brought into numerous courts and challenged therein. 

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff asks this Court:

          1.         To issue a temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction restraining Defendants, their employees, agents and successors from enforcing and executing the Act;

          2.         To enter judgment declaring the Act to be in violation of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and permanently enjoining the enforcement of its provisions;

          3.         For attorneys’ fees and costs as provided by 42 U.S.C. § 1988; and

          4.         To grant such other and further relief as this Court shall find just and proper.

                                                                        Dated this 21 day of May, 2002, 

                                                                        LAW OFFICE OF ELENA LUISA GARELLA


                                                                        Elena Luisa Garella, WSBA #23577

                                                                        Attorney for Plaintiff William Sheehan