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Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - Page updated at 01:13 PM


Your Courts, Their Secrets

KinderCare battled every step of the way

Seattle Times staff reporters

KinderCare is one of the country's largest child-care companies. If someone sued the company alleging a child was sexually abused, the public's interest in knowing more about the case would seem pretty clear.

But when The Seattle Times asked to have just such a lawsuit unsealed in King County, KinderCare's lawyers raised a host of objections, exemplifying the difficulty of opening files that should never have been closed in the first place.

There was "no public interest" in the file, the lawyers said. "No possible benefit" would be served by opening it, they said. "All pertinent information" was already available on a state Web site and telephone hotline for information on licensed child-care centers, they said. The Times' motion was "procedurally defective," they said. Too much time had passed for the file to be opened now, they said.

KinderCare's attorneys, from the law firm Lane Powell, made one argument after another that failed to persuade the court. But The Times had to respond each time, generating more than 150 pages of back and forth.

The lawsuit against KinderCare was filed in 1994 and sealed in 1996. The sealing order, signed by former King County Court Commissioner Stephen Gaddis, said the parties had reached a confidential settlement and that the file contained "allegations of sexual abuse of a minor."

But the order didn't meet the legal requirements for secrecy. Among other things, it used the wrong legal standard, citing "good cause" instead of the more demanding threshold set by the Washington Supreme Court.

In May of this year, Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Trickey opened the file. To protect the child's privacy, he kept five documents under seal. The settlement amount doesn't appear in unsealed records.

A review of the lawsuit reveals conflicting versions of the main claim: that the boy was allowed to be taken from a KinderCare center in Kirkland by an unauthorized person and then sexually abused. No criminal charges were ever filed in the case, and KinderCare denied doing anything wrong.

But the lawsuit provides far more information than the state's Web site or hotline. The boy's mother, for example, alleged in the lawsuit that KinderCare managers had tried to cover up the alleged incident.

She also noted in the file that one year before her lawsuit, three supervisors at KinderCare's Redmond center had been criminally charged with failing to report suspected child abuse. It was the first time a child-care facility in Washington had been charged under the state's reporting law.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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