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A superior court judge removed a temporary restraining order Monday that barred Central Washington University from releasing documents related to a sexual harassment investigation involving professor and state House of Representatives candidate Mathew Manweller.

The ruling by Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Scott Sparks left CWU free to release redacted investigation records to the public. Sparks denied a motion to dismiss the case. 

“This is a hard area, because public records are so fundamentally the public’s records,” Sparks said. “When the public pays for something, usually it is the public’s. But we also like to think that we have privacy.”

Sparks said the case involves aspects of Manweller’s public life, not his private life. 

The records were requested by the Daily Record and the Yakima Herald-Republic. The university provided the newspapers with an 89-page redacted copy of the report Monday afternoon.

“We don’t want to put unnecessary hurdles in front of the public trying to get access to records,” said state Assistant Attorney General Alan Smith, who represented CWU. Smith said prohibiting the records’ release would expose the university to legal liability under Washington’s Public Records Act. An attorney for the newspapers appeared via telephone to argue for the release.

Investigation

The CWU investigation, completed Oct. 1, covered allegations of sexual harassment against Manweller dating to 2006. 

Manweller filed a lawsuit against CWU to obtain the restraining order Oct. 19.

“There is no clear legal or equitable right to prevent disclosing what the Public Records Act requires,” Smith said on CWU’s behalf. He said that, in this case, the right to privacy would only be invaded if information in the records was highly offensive to the individual in question and no legitimate public interest would be addressed by the release. The Washington Supreme Court has concluded that disclosing the conduct of public employees is in the public interest, Smith said. 

He added that the court could eventually expunge the record, but that still wouldn’t address records requests made before Manweller filed his lawsuit. 

Attorney Douglas Nicholson, who represented Manweller during the hearing, framed the case as a private dispute, rather than a public records issue. Manweller has said in court filings that the investigation was politically motivated and violated university policy, and Nicholson reiterated those allegations during the hearing Monday. Nicholson said the timing of the report could not be more suspicious.  

“I don’t think CWU is trying at all to protect the interest of Dr. Manweller,” Nicholson said. The 2012 investigation results — which include more detail, innuendo and hearsay than records generated in 2006 — should never have been created in the first place, Nicholson said, along with other arguments. Manweller did not object in July when the Yakima Herald-Republic was provided with records discussing initial inquiries into the 2006 allegation, according to court documents. 

University officials have said the report was not politically motivated. CWU hired a Wenatchee law firm to conduct an investigation this fall after determining any investigation completed in 2006 did not meet the university’s obligations under Title IX, according to court documents. Title IX requires educational institutions to investigate student allegations of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination based on sex.

“We needed to look into (the 2006 allegation) and determine that, yes, our students are safe,” Smith said, adding that CWU had an obligation to investigate the allegations. 

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