Va. FOIA & access in the news
(Posted 7/8/2009 by Megan Rhyne)
Loudoun County Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) has submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act to try and find the truth about reports that have circulated about the Planning Commission since last week. York confirmed this weekend he has submitted a FOIA request to Commissioner Sandra Chaloux (Dulles) in an attempt to uncover any e-mails she may have sent regarding the Planning Commission's work session on the Countywide Transportation Plan. Last week reports circulated that an e-mail was sent to some members of the commission encouraging them not to attend the Thursday, June 25 work session because lack of a quorum would likely force the delay the public hearing on the CTP until September. More recently, sources have said the e-mail in question reflected a more unilateral decision on Chaloux's part not to attend the meeting, knowing that her absence would leave the panel without a quorum to conduct business.
A proposal to keep jurors anonymous in all criminal trials is under consideration by the Virginia Supreme Court.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's office has rejected a second request under the state's Freedom of Information Act for records of where he has traveled, when and for whom. Kaine's office on Monday denied an Associated Press request for information on where the chief executive and Democratic National Committee chairman has traveled, on whose behalf, and what it cost.
A woman who filed an open-records lawsuit against the director of the Warren County Department of Social Services and the chairwoman of its board is now seeking financial sanctions against the agency as well. In a 12-page document mailed to General District Court on June 26, David Zachary Kaufman, of the Kaufman Law firm in Fairfax, says that sanctions should be imposed against Social Services for failing to comply with an agreement to provide his client, Linda B. Selover of Front Royal, with documents that she was seeking as a result of the lawsuit. Selover filed a petition in General District Court on May 15, 2008, alleging that her rights under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act were violated by the department's director, Ronald L. King, and its board chairwoman, Prudence B. Mathews. Selover sought minutes of Social Services board meetings, audio recordings, e-mails and memos "which may shed light on their investigation of abuse of vulnerable individuals," she has said. In September, with Judge W. Dale Houff presiding, Selover's attorney, and County Attorney Blair D. Mitchell signed the terms of an agreement as to which documents the agency would provide.
An interesting dispatch from Bath County, the home of gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds / Just a few days after Deeds' June 9 primary victory, a stranger showed up at the Bath County Courthouse, asking to review Deeds personal and legal records. Bath is the Virginia's second least populated county. There aren't a lot of strangers there. So the young man attracted a bit of attention from the clerks at the courthouse and then from Chris Singleton, Bath's part-time Commonwealth Attorney, who just happens to be Deeds' former law partner. Who was he? He was Republican operative Jared Wheeler, and he spent a couple solid days sifting through records in the county courthouse. Though he attracted attention, the folks in Bath said they were careful to give Wheeler everything he asked for and be as helpful as they could.
Supreme Court's juror anonymity proposal
(Posted 7/8/2009 by Megan Rhyne)
Virginia passed a law in 2008 that allows courts to close access to juror lists upon a showing of good cause (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+19.2-263.3). The bill was originally introduced in 2007, sponsored by Del. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), but was sent to the Crime Commission for study. Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) carried the bill in 2008 and made clear during committee sessions that his aim was to protect jurors in situations where there may be retaliation, especially in gang trials.
A story last month in the Virginian-Pilot, however, reported that Virginia Beach courts have taken the opportunity to close access to juror lists is ALL cases. (http://hamptonroads.com/node/509317).
And, because the legislation also directs the Supreme Court to promulgate further rules on the protection of juror information, the court's advisory committee on court rules has issued a proposed rule, which will be open for public comment through Sept. 1.
The rule is no friend to the public's (and defendant's) right to a public trial: providing for automatic numbering of jurors so names won't be used in open court; prohibiting sharing of juror information sheets and subsequent sealing of them; and limited possible disclosure of information -- only upon motion for good cause to those with "legitimate interest."
At its June 25, 2009, board meeting, the board of directors for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government resolved to oppose the Virginia Supreme Court’s proposal to conceal the identity of jurors in criminal cases from public view.
There are U.S. Supreme Court cases (not the least of which originated from Virginia) that say information about jurors is presumptively public. These cases say that juror information can be shielded, but only if a judge makes specific justifications on the records (for things like possible juror tampering or retaliation).
As written, the Virginia Supreme Court’s proposal goes in quite the opposite direction. It would require judges to close off juror information -- names, addresses, occupations, and answers to juror-screening questions -- in every case to every person, except for the judges and attorneys. In one part of the rule, the court can even order the attorney not to share the information with his client, to not make copies, and to return any juror records to the court to seal away from prying eyes.
Each juror has an awesome job before him or her when a trial begins. It is understandable why some may feel apprehensive about what consequences may befall them for fulfilling their civic duty. But trials are constitutionally guaranteed public events, and the defendant has a constitutional right to a jury or his peers, whereas anonymous jurors can dispense anonymous justice, without regard to the evidence at hand.
The public must have a mechanism to monitor the judicial system. The court’s proposal interferes with this mechanism, and VCOG urges the court to reconsider the rule as currently written.
(Posted 7/1/2009 by Megan Rhyne)
It's popular to bash mainstream media, says Lucy Dalglish of the Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (and VCOG board member), but they've spent a lot of money fighting for the public's right to know what its public and private institutions are up to, "They spent the money on your behalf. You may have noticed your local media have hit hard times. ...I'm afraid. Very afraid that the folks we've always counted on to push for open government won't be able to continue this battle."
After asking legal counsel in Richmond, Del. Tom Gear, R-Hampton, said he learned it is not a criminal offense for a City Council member to ask another council member his or her opinion regarding an upcoming vote.
For the second time in a week, Gov. Tim Kaine defended his national travels for the Democratic Party on live radio.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist last week barred two new exemptions from being added to the state's public records law when he vetoed a pair of bills approved by state lawmakers. The first would have shielded from public disclosure any "proprietary business information" the Department of Management received from a telecommunications or broadband company. The second would have created an exemption for information identifying a donor or prospective donor to a publicly owned building.
Times-Dispatch editorial: The governor says if people want to know where he was on a given day, he will tell them. We trust him. If he went to Kansas City to see the Royals lose, he would say so. If he went to Minneapolis to raise moola for Democratic candidates, he would say so. But there are some things citizens and journalists should not have to ask.
Washington Post editorial: MARK SANFORD he's not. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) isn't taking phantom hikes through the Appalachians. He's not jetting off to Argentina (as far as we know). Rather, Mr. Kaine's sin is a relatively minor omission: He's been less than forthright about disclosing his travels as Democratic National Committee chairman. The destinations are less exotic than South America (think Kansas City), which makes the lack of disclosure all the more puzzling.
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