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Manweller v. CWU: State candidate wins bid to bar release of sexual misconduct investigation

Santos Herrera, News Editor - October 24, 2012

Political science professor Mathew Manweller, who is running for state representative, succeeded in getting a Kittitas County judge to temporarily bar Central from releasing records about the university’s investigation of a student’s complaint of sexual misconduct in 2006.

Manweller also sued the university on Friday, claiming it had purposefully leaked word of the investigation to the Yakima Herald-Republic and the Daily Record in order to wreck his chances of being elected.

In his ruling on Monday, Superior Court Judge Scott R. Sparks agreed with Manweller that the release of the records would cause his “personal and professional reputation” to be “irreparably damaged or harmed.” He set a hearing for Monday, Nov. 5, the day before the general election.

That prompted an attorney for the newspapers to file a motion Tuesday urging the judge to reconsider his Nov. 5 hearing date.

“The Court is ensuring that the newspapers and voters cannot obtain any information from these public records prior to the election,” the newspapers’ attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard wrote in her filing.

Further, the newspapers’ attorney argued that Manweller didn’t meet the standards under the Public Record Act.

For a government agency to withhold records, the act requires the records to be exempt under a specific statute and that disclosure would “clearly not be in the public interest and would substantially and irreparably damage any person.”

According to court records, the dispute stems to July 11, when the Herald-Republic asked Central for any records alleging complaints of misconduct filed against Manweller. Central then produced internal records relating to the complaint of misconduct, which was made in 2006.

The Herald-Republic, in its story on Tuesday, said it never wrote about the allegations of sexual misconduct because no formal complaint was ever made.

On Sept. 1, Central ordered an outside investigation of the old charges. In Manweller’s court statement, he accuses Central of an “effort to undermine my political campaign and harm me personally.” Furthermore, Manweller wrote, “what is especially disconcerting is that this investigation was conducted in an election year, in which I am running for office.”

He continued by contending that the results could have been conveyed orally, but that “the investigation was ordered internally by sources within CWU who knew, or should have known, that the report would have to be produced in response to a public records request, and source(s) within CWU leaked to the press that the investigation had been ordered and completed in time to be disclosed prior to the election.”

Manweller is asking the court to not only keep the investigative report private, but to delete that and all related documents from his personnel file. He is also asking for attorney fees.

Linda Schactler, Central’s director of public affairs, said, “We adamantly deny that the investigation was politically motivated and we will vigorously defend that in a lawsuit.”
In an interview, Manweller said, “She’s wrong. She’s being told what to say ... No one has come forward in six years, no new evidence has been collected in six years, so what would cause somebody to just wake up six years later and go, ‘Hey I have an idea, let’s reopen this investigation.’ If it’s not politically motivated, what other explanation could explain it?”

Manweller said he believes that such politically motivated attacks are “why people don’t run for office.”

“CWU is using tax payers money for political purpose,” he said, “and that should be investigated.”

Schactler said the university was “fully prepared to the extent required by the law to comply with newspapers’ public records requests.”

She also said that at the hearing Nov. 5, the Assistant Attorney General Alan Smith, who is assigned to Central, “will explain why the public records should be disclosed.”

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