Federal judge sides with strippers in Pierce County public records case

David Van Vleet talks to the media at the U.S. District Courthouse in Tacoma on Oct. 23, 2014.
David Van Vleet talks to the media at the U.S. District Courthouse in Tacoma on Oct. 23, 2014. Staff photographer

Constitutional protections are automatic exemptions to the state’s Public Records Act, even if not expressly delineated as such, a federal judge in Tacoma has ruled in barring Pierce County from releasing the licensing information of a group of erotic dancers.

In a decision issued earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton said the women’s constitutional right to privacy trumped state disclosure laws.

“The PRA, by design, cannot violate the constitution, and constitutional protections (such as freedom of expression) are necessarily incorporated as exemptions, just like any other express exemption enumerated in the PRA,” Leighton wrote in his Aug. 10 decision.

The ruling makes permanent an earlier decision by Leighton to temporarily bar the release of the dancers’ licensing information, including their names and addresses, to an Auburn man who’d sought the information under the state Public Records Act.

David Van Vleet, who requested the information, argued that the licensing records meet the definition of public records. He said he sought the dancers’ names so he could pray for them.

The women, employees of DreamGirls at Fox’s in Parkland, argued that they might be subject to harassment or other harm if the information was released.

They asked Leighton to declare the Public Records Act unconstitutional as it applied to their situation.

Leighton declined to go that far. Instead he ruled that the law contained adequate provisions to protect the dancers’ rights to privacy, and he limited his ruling to apply only to Van Vleet’s request.