Tiberino v. Spokane County

13 P.3d 1104 (2000)

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Tiberino v. Spokane County

Washington Court of Appeals
13 P.3d 1104 (2000)



Gina Tiberino (defendant) was an employee of Spokane County (the county) in Washington. Specifically, Tiberino served as a secretary in the prosecuting attorney’s special assaults unit. As part of her employment with the county, Tiberino was provided with a work computer. During training, Tiberino was instructed by her supervisor that the computer was not for personal use and that because the county was subject to an open-records law, she should not send or receive information that she would not be comfortable seeing on the front page of a newspaper. In October 1998, the county received complaints from Tiberino’s coworkers regarding her work habits, and specifically, that she used her work computer for personal matters. The county’s office administrator investigated the coworkers’ complaints and inspected Tiberino’s computer. The office administrator determined that of 214 total emails sent, 200 related to personal matters and only 14 appeared to be work related. In November, Tiberino was terminated from the county because of her unsatisfactory job performance. The reason for her termination was her preoccupation with personal issues during work time. On December 1, Tiberino’s attorney threatened litigation against the county and demanded Tiberino’s reinstatement. On December 16, a news reporter (plaintiff) filed an open-records request for correspondence to and from Tiberino during her employment. Pursuant to Tiberino’s request, the trial court issued a temporary restraining order in order to prevent the county from releasing the documents. Additional media outlets (plaintiffs) intervened in the action seeking the release of the emails. The superior court conducted an in-camera review and held that Tiberino’s email communications were public records within the meaning of the open-records act. Tiberino filed an appeal, asserting that her personal emails were not public records because they did not contain information regarding the government’s conduct or function.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Kurtz, C.J.)

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