Wash. lawyers challenge secret court proceedings

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A defense lawyer in Eastern Washington was reading a detective's statement in his client's drug case when he came across a curious line. In asking to search the man's house and cars, the detective revealed that he had already seen the defendant's bank records.

That's odd, thought the lawyer, Robert Thompson of Pasco. There's no search warrant for the bank records. How'd he get them?

The answer — with a subpoena secretly issued by a judge — provides a window into the little-known use of "special inquiry judge proceedings" in Benton County and across the state. Prosecutors who use them say the proceedings are authorized by state law, make for more efficient investigations and have plenty of judicial oversight, but Thompson and other defense attorneys say they raise questions about privacy, accountability and the open administration of justice.

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