Yesterday morning, Attorney General Rob McKenna notified media across the state that he would be speaking about the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold most of the Affordable Care Act. McKenna was one of 26 state attorneys general who sued to block the Affordable Care Act. But when Stranger reporter David “Goldy” Goldstein arrived for the press conference at McKenna’s downtown Seattle offices, a guard was waiting for him. Cameramen, radio people, and reporters were granted free entry. Goldy was prevented from entering.
"They are physically blocking me from entering," Goldy told me by phone, seven minutes before the 11:30 a.m. press conference was scheduled to begin. A spokesman for McKenna, Dan Sytman, had told Goldy a few minutes before that Goldy wasn’t a journalist and then blocked him from entering. A McKenna staffer had also grabbed Goldy by the shoulders and turned him away from the door.
If Rob McKenna was trying to restore faith in his competence as a lawyer—by attempting to put a positive spin on his legal defeat a few hours before—McKenna sabotaged himself by making yet another legal miscalculation.
The Stranger’s editorial staff and publisher, Tim Keck, agreed that Goldy should proceed into the press conference anyway. State statute requires that press conferences like the one McKenna had called be open to all press and all members of the public. The Stranger also contacted one of its lawyers, Jessica Goldman, a litigator at Summit Law Group. She affirmed that state public meetings law as well as the First Amendment guaranteed Goldy’s access.
On the phone with Goldy—a conversation easily audible to the guard and McKenna’s staff—I assured him that we would bail him out of jail, feed his dog, and pay his parking tickets if he was arrested.
Then Stranger attorney Goldman got involved, first calling Sytman (he didn’t answer), then sending an e-mail. Barring Goldy was “a clear violation of The Stranger’s and Mr. Goldstein’s First Amendment rights and the guarantees of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act,” she wrote.
Sytman capitulated. “Actually he's in the conference,” Sytman wrote back. But the matter wasn’t settled. McKenna’s office has barred Goldy from attending press events before, Goldman noted to Sytman in a second e-mail, adding, “I would like to have your assurance, in writing, that this will not happen again. Otherwise, we will go to Court and obtain a restraining order prohibiting Mr. McKenna from violating these critical rights.”
Goldman followed up: “If there is someone else in Mr. McKenna’s office with whom I should speak about this request before going to Court, please advise me today." (The full e-mail exchange is after the jump.)
Goldman heard back, not from the PR flack Sytman, but McKenna’s own lawyer, Washington State Solicitor General Maureen Hart. Details of those negotiations are still in the works. But Goldman and Hart discussed the need to (1) allow Goldy full access to all of AG McKenna's press conferences and (2) to invite The Stranger in writing to all of those press conference. Really, it's a cut and dried legal issue.
I called the AG’s office this morning to ask why they barred Goldy in the first place—and on what grounds. Reached by phone, Dan Sytman said, “I am not interested,” and then hung up on me.
Contacted by e-mail, AG deputy chief of staff Janelle Guthrie said she couldn’t comment, but added, “Thank you for your professionalism.”
Let's pause here to appreciate the irony in all of this: Part of the reason McKenna is so angry at Goldy is that Goldy keeps calling McKenna acrappylawyer. McKenna himself seemed determined to prove Goldy right yesterday: Having just lost a lawsuit before the US Supreme Court, McKenna picked a fight with Goldy (and The Stranger) that ended with McKenna's own lawyer being forced to acknowledge that barring reporters from a press conference is against the law in Washington state.
Rob McKenna is currently the state's top law-enforcement official. McKenna is running to become the state's chief executive.
Say what you will about Goldy, his partisan allegiances, or his criticisms of McKenna: Goldy is a working journalist. He’s also a member of the general public. As such, he’s entitled to enter official functions held by public officials in public facilities. And Goldy knows that. The Stranger's lawyer knows that. But Rob McKenna doesn’t know that.
Because Rob McKenna is a crappy lawyer.
Here's the e-mail exchange between Stranger attorney Jessica Goldman and McKenna spokesman Dan Sytman:
From: Jessica Goldman Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2012 11:44 AM To: 'DanS@ATG.WA.GOV' Subject: FW: Press release from AG's office
Repeating the voicemail message I just left you, I represent The Stranger. David Goldstein, a reporter for The Stranger, has been physically barred from attending the public press conference advertised below. This is a clear violation of The Stranger’s and Mr. Goldstein’s First Amendment rights and the guarantees of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act. I’m available to take your call now.
Jessica L. Goldman
From: Sytman, Dan (ATG) Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2012 11:57 AM To: Jessica Goldman Subject: Re: Press release from AG's office
Actually he's in the conference. Dan Sytman
From: Jessica Goldman Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2012 12:04 PM To: 'Sytman, Dan (ATG)' Subject: RE: Press release from AG's office
He was physically barred by a guard from entering and was directed to leave, despite the fact that other members of the news media were being freely permitted to enter. Based on his constitutional and statutory right to be there, he refused to leave. Only then was he permitted to enter. This has been a recurring issue at press conferences held by Mr. McKenna. I would like to have your assurance, in writing, that this will not happen again. Otherwise, we will go to Court and obtain a restraining order prohibiting Mr. McKenna from violating these critical rights.
Jessica L. Goldman
From: Sytman, Dan (ATG) [mailto:DanS@ATG.WA.GOV] Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2012 12:09 PM To: Jessica Goldman Subject: Re: Press release from AG's office
As I said, he was allowed in. Dan Sytman Washington State Attorney General's Office
From: Jessica Goldman Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2012 12:11 PM To: 'Sytman, Dan (ATG)' Subject: RE: Press release from AG's office
I take your email to be a declination of my request for a letter directing that Mr. Goldstein be permitted to attend press conferences held by Mr. McKenna. If there is someone else in Mr. McKenna’s office with whom I should speak about this request before going to Court, please advise me today.