Frequently Asked Questions
We include this section to assist WWU Faculty and Staff with some general information. Should you be involved with a situation that you think requires consultation with an attorney in this office, we recommend you consider discussing the matter with your supervisor or union representative if appropriate, and then following through with contacting this office.
Who does the AGO represent?
The AGO provides legal advice and representation to WWU’s Board of Trustees, and, through the President, to the entire university. WWU, its colleges, units and operations are one legal entity, including the Associated Students. The Assistant Attorneys General assigned to represent WWU advise the Board of Trustees through its Chair, the President and members of the President’s administration, Faculty, Staff, and Associated Students Officers, all in their official capacities, on legal issues impacting WWU. If different areas of WWU have different viewpoints on any issue, the President has final authority, unless the Board of Trustees has reserved final authority on a given issue.
What types of legal services does the AGO provide?
The AGO is responsible for providing a full range of legal advice and services to WWU. Assistant Attorneys General provide counsel in a variety of practice areas, such as contract and business matters, real estate transactions, copyright, faculty labor, student conduct, academic dishonesty, public records disclosure compliance, open meetings law compliance, and employment.
Other types of legal services does the Attorney General provide to WWU?
The AGO has other divisions that provide legal services to WWU on a case by case or indirect basis. These include:
- The AGO Torts Division, which provides defense to WWU and its employees, acting in good faith, when someone claims to have been injured or damaged through the negligent acts of a WWU employee.
- The AGO Labor and Personnel Division, which provides counsel to the WWU Human Resources office in labor matters.
- The AGO Education Division, which provides support and guidance to all the assistant attorneys general assigned to represent Washington’s public colleges and universities.
- The AGO Solicitor General Unit, which provides support and guidance to all assistant attorneys general in appellate matters.
How can I contact the campus AGO?
The campus AGO is located at Old Main 330F. To make an appointment, please call (360) 650-3117; fax, (360) 650-6197. The direct lines and email addresses of the attorneys are in the campus directory. If you don’t know whether you should have direct contact with an attorney, please call the main number.
The assistant attorneys general also maintain official offices at the Bellingham Regional Office of Attorney General in downtown Bellingham, 103 E. Holly, Suite 320, Bellingham, WA 98225. Telephone: (360) 676-2037, fax, 676-2049.
What protocol should be followed by process servers seeking to serve subpoenas, summons and complaints, and other legal documents on WWU faculty, staff, or students?
Process servers are directed to the WWU Public Safety Department in the Campus Services Building on the corner of Bill McDonald Parkway and 21st Street prior to attempting to serve individuals on campus. WWU Public Safety phone number is 360-650-3555.
What protocol should be followed by process servers seeking to serve WWU as an institution of the State of Washington?
To serve the State of Washington or any of its agencies or institutions, legal process must be made on an individual assistant attorney general. To do so, process servers are directed to the Attorney General’s Office, Regional Services, in Bellingham, located at 103 East Holly Street, Suite 310. The phone number for the Attorney General’s Office is (360) 676-2037.
What protocol should be followed by process servers seeking to serve individuals named in a lawsuit?
Legal process on individuals named in a lawsuit is based upon the individual’s relationship with WWU and must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Process servers are first directed to the WWU Public Safety Department, phone number is 360-650-3555. Upon Public Safety’s review, they may direct you to the Attorney General’s Office, Regional Services, in Bellingham, located at 103 East Holly Street, Suite 310. The phone number for the Attorney General’s Office is (360) 676-2037.
I am a university employee. If I am served with a subpoena, notice of deposition, or other legal process that relates to WWU business, what should I do?
If this is a Western matter, we recommend you immediately inform the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) at (360) 650-3117 or (360) 676-2037. This does not apply when your matter is personal in nature, such as a proceeding for marriage dissolution. The AGO is not allowed to provide legal advice to a member of the public or to state employees on personal matters.
I am a WWU employee and I am aware that one of my actions, or inactions, may result in me or WWU being sued. Will WWU defend me? What is indemnification?
Yes, if the following process results in approval for defense and indemnification in keeping with RCW 28B.10.848. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=28B.10.842
When a tort claim is filed with the State against WWU claiming that an individual employee’s action cause injury or damage to another person or person’s property:
- The Washington State Office of Financial Management conducts a brief investigation and determines whether the claim should be approved and promptly paid, or denied due to lack of evidence of state responsibility;
- Claims that require extensive investigation before determining responsibility are denied, and lawsuits follow;
- If an individual employee is named along with WWU as defendant, the employee may seek to be defended by the State of Washington and represented by the AGO;
- The individual employee seeks and completes a form, “Request for Defense and Indemnification,” and submits it to the campus assistant attorney general;
- The WWU assistant attorney general conduct additional investigation, along with the WWU Risk Manager, and makes a recommendation to the Board of Trustees in an Executive Session as to whether or not defense and indemnification should be provided;
- The Board of Trustees must determine whether the employee was acting “in good faith and within the scope of employment” at the time the event occurred;
- The Board of Trustees, in Open Session, considers whether to grant defense an indemnification to the individually-named employees and if granted, the request and form are completed and sent to the AGO in Olympia, Torts Division;
- The Torts Division conducts a similar review and must also determine that the employee was acting in “good faith and within the scope of employment;”
- If approval is given, the AGO assigns an assistant attorney general or a special assistant attorney general to defend the employee. The employee is expected to cooperate with the AGO in defending the suit, which may include attending depositions, court hearings and meetings to discuss the case. Such attendance and cooperation is considered part of our work as state employees.
Indemnification is the agreement of another to pay the monetary judgment that a court orders you to pay. If WWU agrees to indemnify you for the damages you caused to another person’s car while you were mowing the lawn at WWU, WWU pays to fix damages, not you.
I need a lawyer for a personal matter. Can the Office of Attorney General help me at all?
Law precludes the AGO providing legal advice or representation to individual members of the WWU community regarding matters against WWU or of a personal nature, such as divorce, will, or landlord tenant issues.
Assistant attorneys general can provide you with the names of three attorneys for referral, unless the subject area is outside the realm of familiarity with local attorneys. Should you wish for such a referral, you may call the campus office at 650-3117 or the main reception for the Bellingham Regional Office of Attorney General at 676-2037.
Can I seek legal counsel outside the university for university business?
No. The state constitution and state law provides that the Washington State Attorney General serves as legal counsel to the state colleges and universities.
Having said that, WWU and the AGO have authority to and do arrange to have outside legal counsel provide legal advice or representation for WWU on particular matters due to expertise or conflicts of interest. WWU employees should not seek the services of outside counsel concerning WWU business without prior consultation with the campus legal office.
How do I make a Public Records Request at WWU?
A Request should be made, in writing preferably, to:
- WWU Public Records Office, 516 High Street, MS-9015 Bellingham, WA 98225
- Via email on the following form: Public Record Request Form
- Further questions should be directed to: WWU Public Records Officer, Dolapo Akinrinade Phone: 360.650.2728 Fax: 360.650.4228
A Request must seek an "identifiable record." This means the description the requester provides must tell the University how to identify the records requested. If the request is not clear, the University may request clarification. If the requester fails to clarify the request, the University need not respond to the request. Only existing identifiable records are public records. The law does not require the creation of new records to respond to a public records request.
What role does the campus AGO have in processing public records requests?
When a Public Records Request is made, the Public Records Officer sends a copy to the campus AGO to assist in:
- Identifying which offices or units at WWU might have records responsive to the request.
- Assessing which legal exemptions from disclosure might apply in responding to the request.
- Establishing time lines for review, assessment and disclosure.
- Defending WWU’s response if challenged in court under Chapter 42.56 RCW.
What role does the campus AGO have in contract management at WWU?
The AGO is responsible for reviewing contracts and lending “approval as to legal form”:
- For WWU contract templates that are frequently used.
- For contracts coming from outside vendors and entities.
- For WWU contracts that have been developed at WWU to enter into contracts with outside vendors and entities.
This review occurs twice weekly in conjunction with insurance and indemnification review by the WWU Risk Manager.
Is what I tell an Assistant Attorney General privileged?
Communications are protected by the privilege if the communications are: 1) confidential; 2) made between an attorney and WWU, i.e., agents of WWU or agents necessary to render legal advice; and 3) made for the purpose of seeking, obtaining or providing legal advice.
The attorney-client privilege preserves the confidentiality of communications between attorneys and their clients. The purpose of the privilege is to:
- Encourage free and open communications between attorneys and clients
- Assure clients that communications will not be disclosed to others
- Foster a confidential and “socially desirable relationship” between attorneys and clients.
Although originally developed to protect individuals in their relationships with attorneys, the privilege has applied for many years to corporations and institutions, such as WWU. Confidentiality is the key to maintaining the privilege. If the substance of the attorney-client communication is disclosed to others, the privilege may be waived. Here are some tips to help maintain the privilege:
- Do not disclose attorney-client communications to third parties;
- Instruct others regarding the confidential nature of these communications;
- Conduct communications in private settings;
- Mark documents with a “privilege” label, if appropriate;
- Limit circulation of documents to those with a legitimate need to know;
- Be wary of less secure methods of communication;
Avoid referring to confidential communications in public until and unless the privilege has been waived.
What are the legal duties of academic department chairs?
What protocol does WWU follow for litigation holds of electronic documents?
Here is the litigation holds of electronic document (.pdf)
What are the legal parameters regarding lobbying and political activity for university staff?
Here is the lobbying advice 2009(.pdf)
I'm planning to study abroad for a quarter. I want to authorize my mother/father/sister to serve as my agent to complete financial aid applications and other important forms for me while I'm gone. Is there a form I can fill out to do this?
Yes. You can complete a "limited power of attorney" form to designate someone as your agent to act on your behalf for a particular period of time. Here is a link to the Power of Attorney form we developed. You need to read it carefully and select the items of responsibility you're asking your agent to be authorized to do. You need to sign it in front of a Notary Public, available at the University Cashier's Office, Old Main 245. You can leave copies of the signed form with the Registrar, Financial Aid, and your agent.