High School Essay Contest

Essay Contest PDF

The purpose of this contest is two-fold: to help educate young people about the importance of open-government principles; and to honor the memory of the late Scott Johnson, a former Washington Coalition for Open Government board member.

The contest is open to current juniors and seniors in all Washington public and private high schools, as well as home-schooled students at the equivalent stage of their education. The deadline is April 19.

The winner will receive a $1,000 prize.  Other awards may be made at the discretion of the judges and with approval of the WCOG board of directors.  The award will be presented to the winner in his or her home school district in May or June.

The contest is co-sponsored by WCOG and Stokes Lawrence, the Seattle law firm where Johnson spent most of his career as an attorney. Johnson died of a heart attack in 2012 less than three months before he was to be sworn in as an elected King County Superior Court judge.

Essay Contest Topic

“Open government” is a very broad term. For the Washington Coalition for Open Government, the term is understood as the people’s right to know what their public officials are doing, what decisions they are making, and how they are spending the taxpayers’ money. Such openness is essential to democracy.

Contestants should first familiarize themselves with the coalition’s work at  In particular, read the articles written by coalition members that discuss real-life issues involving either or both public records and public meetings at  Press releases and newsletter items that also appear on the website may be useful for formulating ideas.

With these articles and other information on the websites for background, and drawing on any other research and interviews as desired, contestants are to address these questions:

“Why do Washington citizens need the Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Records Act, and how would government be different if we did not have them?”

Judging Criteria

1. Clearness of expression and thought
2. Demonstrated understanding of the Public Records Act and Open Meetings Act
3. Cites one real-life example
4. Submitted essay is 500 to 700 words.
5. Represents the original work of the contestant
6. Care has been taken to avoid plagiarism – the deliberate copying of material written by others. Use proper attribution.

Submitting Entries

Entries for the 2014 competition should be emailed to no later than midnight April 19, 2014.  The essays may be sent as plain text in the body of the email, or as Word or PDF attachments.  Each email entry should include the contestant’s name, age, home address, telephone number, email address, the school currently attended and if known, the school or college the entrant will attend in the fall of 2014.  No contestant may submit more than one entry. Previous contest winners are ineligible.

The decision of the judges is final and non-reviewable. All essay entries become the property of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and may be reproduced and distributed as the organization sees fit, including publication on the group’s website.  By submitting an essay, each contestant grants permission for WCOG to use his or her name and photograph for publicity purposes, including announcement of the winner.

For more information about the contest or the Washington Coalition for Open Government, contact

2013 Winning Essays:
1st Place Winner, Daniel Manwell: Click here to read essay
Runner Up, Nicole Laliberte: Click here to read essay

Stokes Lawrence is proud to be the primary sponsor of the Washington Coalition for Open Government's Scott Johnson Open Government Essay. Scott was a long-time shareholder at Stokes Lawrence and active with open government and First Amendment issues. He previously served as the Coalition's director. Following Scott's untimely passing in October 2012, the Coalition was a primary beneficiary of memorials collected in Scott's name by the Stokes Lawrence Foundation. Stokes Lawrence, with offices in Seattle and Yakima, represents individuals, entrepreneurs and their families, small businesses, non-profit organizations and Fortune 500 companies. Please visit for further information.

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