The Supreme Court of Virginia agreed in early July to hear oral
arguments in the Fredericksburg e-mail case.
In December 2002, Fredericksburg Circuit Court Judge John W.
Scott ruled that one of three e-mail exchanges among three
Fredericksburg City Council members was an improper electronic
The lawsuit, brought by political foes of Mayor Bill Beck, Vice
Mayor Scott Howson and Councilman Matt Kelly, argued that the three
discussed public business in the e-mail exchanges. FOIA prohibits
local public bodies from meeting via electronic means, and also
defines a meeting in this instance as three or more council members
gathering to discuss public business.
The councilmen argued that the e-mail exchanges could not be
considered "meetings" because the discussion and
replies between them all occurred over several hours and days.
Scott said it wasn't important whether the replies were
made simultaneous to one another; what mattered is what was said in
the e-mail. One e-mail exchange was a give-and-take discussion of a
public issue, and was thus a meeting, the judge ruled. The other
two exchanges were merely the sharing of information and were not
The Virginia Municipal League criticized the ruling, insisting
that the e-mails were little different from the exchange of
The Freedom of Information Advisory Council said in a January
2001 advisory opinion that any use of listservs or back-and-forth
responses to e-mails addressed to three or more public officials on
a matter of public business constitutes an illegal electronic
Both sides considered appealing at one point; eventually, only
the council members did. Oral arguments will likely occur this