King County executive candidate Susan Hutchison will fight release of records of her discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, KIRO-TV, all the way to the state Supreme Court.

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King County executive candidate Susan Hutchison will fight release of records of her discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, KIRO-TV, all the way to the state Supreme Court.

Hutchison supports open records, her attorney Jon Rosen said in a Wednesday hearing at King County Superior Court. “However when it comes to intruding in the privacy of individuals who availed themselves of the court,” Rosen said, “that’s a different story.”

Rosen argued that unsealing records from Hutchison’s lawsuit could have a chilling effect on others who want to sue their employers. He also said the records paint a one-sided picture. They contain inaccurate allegations about Hutchison, Rosen said, but not her rebuttal because the case was settled before she responded.

The Seattle Times contends that of 859 pages filed with the court in the lawsuit, 753 are sealed improperly.

Under state law, before court records are sealed a judge is supposed to find “compelling circumstances” and provide a public order stating why secrecy is needed in light of the public’s interest in open courts. No such order was filed in this case. Instead, the litigants agreed to label most of the court records confidential and were allowed to file them under seal without a court order.

Judge Timothy Bradshaw held the hearing at The Times’ request to determine if the sealed records should be released.

Hutchison filed a lawsuit in October 2003 against KIRO, claiming unlawful discrimination. Hutchison had been an evening news anchor at KIRO from 1981 until September 2002.

Station executives effectively demoted her, hiring a new anchor, Kristy Lee, and assigning Hutchison to anchor the noon news. KIRO said it made the change to increase its ratings. Hutchison said KIRO later reduced her pay by more than 50 percent.

Because Lee was younger, Asian-American, and as Hutchison contended, less experienced, Hutchison claimed she was discriminated against because of her race, age and gender.

KIRO disagreed and alleged that Hutchison said, after her demotion, she was medically unable to work for three months. KIRO claimed she was “unjustly enriched” by receiving disability pay when she “was in fact able to work.”

But the vast majority of court records pertaining to Hutchison’s suit remain unavailable for public inspection. Shortly after KIRO filed its counterclaim to Hutchison’s suit, the two sides settled in June 2005 and agreed to keep details of the case confidential.

Times lawyer Michele Earl-Hubbard argued the public has an obvious interest in Hutchison’s records because she is running for the county’s highest office.

Earl-Hubbard said unsealing the records might have a chilling effect on others. “But our courts always come down that sunshine is the best remedy,” she said.

KIRO’s lawyers said they had no problem with unsealing the records, except for details about some employees’ salaries, some Social Security numbers and a proprietary study about evening newscasts.

“We think the court should unseal the files and has all authority to do that,” said Bruce Johnson, KIRO’s attorney.

Rosen objected. He said he was mindful of the Aug. 18 primary election and Hutchison understands she’s “in a fishbowl” running for King County executive.

But he argued that unsealing the records could deter others from going to court to fight discrimination.

“My client’s position is that there are untrue allegations that are raised” in the sealed records and it would be difficult for Hutchison to rebut them four years later, Rosen added.

Bradshaw asked Rosen to review the sealed records and tell the court by July 27 which documents he thinks can be made public. The judge then would decide which records should be unsealed.

If Bradshaw orders the records unsealed, Rosen said he would appeal all the way to the state Supreme Court.

It’s not a matter of Hutchison avoiding disclosure, Rosen said, but “rather maintaining some dignity in a lawsuit she filed regarding some rights she was deprived of by her employer. I think there are some important issues that need to be addressed by the Supreme Court.”

Staff reporter Ken Armstrong contributed to this report.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or