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Settlement offer in lawsuit falls through: Bonkowski, Ward and Lester refuse to turn over computers for inspection

Three city council members at the center of a lawsuit against the city of Bainbridge Island have refused to turn over their personal computers so the hard drives can be searched for public records.

The denial has put a spike through a potential settlement between the city and two Bainbridge citizens, Althea Paulson and Robert Fortner, on the lawsuit.

Paulson and Fortner filed suit in Kitsap County Superior Court earlier this month after the city didn't release public records that the pair have sought for more than two months.

In the lawsuit, Dan Mallove, the attorney for Paulson and Fortner, noted the city requires council members to use the email accounts provided by the city to correspond about city and council business, and restricts council members from using private email accounts to send emails that are public records.

Council members have also been told that emails concerning government business that are sent from private accounts are public records and should be turned over to the city, according to the lawsuit, but the lawsuit further noted that council members Steve Bonkowski, David Ward and Debbi Lester have not turned over public records that are known to exist on their personal email accounts.

Mallove tendered a settlement offer to the city earlier this month in which he promised to drop the lawsuit if Bonkowski, Ward and Lester would turn over the hard drives of their computers to an independent, third-party expert so the public records could be retrieved.

Kathleen Haggard, an attorney from the firm of Porter, Foster, Rorick, told Mallove in an email late last week that the city was unable to meet all of the terms of the settlement offer "because the three named council members have declined to make their private computers and personal e-mail accounts available for inspection."

Haggard was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Mallove said Tuesday that conversations with the city's legal counsel have made clear that the city would agree to the settlement if it could.

"The city is anxious and willing to accept our settlement offer," Mallove said, but added that without the three council members agreeing to have their computers inspected, it couldn't.

"The city is saying we want to provide them, but these people won't give them to us," he said.

Mallove said Bonkowski, Ward and Lester were directly asked via the city's legal team and Jessica Goldman, the attorney who is representing the three council members in their individual capacities, to provide their hard drives, but the trio refused.

"We're very disappointed because we're citizens and taxpayers of the city of Bainbridge Island, and this refusal by the individual council members to turn over responsive documents is going to potentially cost the city a lot of money," Mallove said.

"As citizens and taxpayers, that implicates all of us," he said.

The lawsuit will continue onward. A hearing on the suit is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 27 in Kitsap County Superior Court.

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