Courts

Jordan v. Kollman (Virginia Supreme Court on libel)

Jordan, a resident of Colonial Heights, published advertisements criticizing the mayor for allowing low-income housing to be built in the city. In fact, the mayor had opposed the construction of the housing, and he sued for defamation. But the Court ruled that the mayor was a 'public official' required to show 'actual malice' in the case. Jordan testified that his ads were based on a certain newspaper article that supported his assertions. The Court found that he believed his advertisements represented the facts of the situation and had an objective reason for so believing. Because there was no clear and convincing evidence that Jordan’s ads were fabricated by him or a product of his imagination, there was no malice. The trial court should have granted Jordan’s motion to strike the evidence and set aside the jury's verdict.

Virginia Department of State Police v. Washington Post (4th Cir. on access to courts)

The Virginia police objected unsuccessfully to the unsealing of records related to Earl Washington, Jr., who was wrongly sentenced to death for rape and murder. After DNA evidence led to a pardon for Washington, media organizations asked for police documents relating to the initial investigation, which were subpoenaed in a civil suit Washington brought after his release. The district court found that 14 of these documents deserved First Amendment status, rather than only qualified common-law protection, and ordered their release. The 4th Circuit agreed on ten of those documents, but for four others, ruled that the district court needed to further explain its decision.

Wigand v. Wilkes

Public television and radio station not a public body because less than two-thirds of funding comes from public money, and they do not perform a delegated governmental function.

Zaleski v. Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND

Allan D. Zaleski,
Plaintiff

v.

Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission,
Defendant

CH03-1603-3

OPINION AND ORDER

The parties appeared for argument on the demurrer to the bill of complaint.

Proceeding under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, plaintiff seeks disclosure of an advisory opinion given by Counsel to the Judicial Inquiry Review Commission to a judge who verbally made the request and to whom a verbal opinion was given.

Media General Operations v. City Council of the City of Richmond

Circuit Court of the City of Richmond

May 5, 2004

Melvin R. Hughes, Jr.
Judge

Thomas W. Williamson, Jr., Esq.
Williamson & LaVecchia, L.C.
6800 Paragon Place
Suite 233
Richmond, VA 23230-1652

Vicki W. Harris, Esq.
Assistant City Attorney
900 East Broad Street
Suite 300
Richmond, VA 23219

Re: Case No. LR-2514-1

Media General Operations, Inc. t/a the Richmond Times Dispatch

v.

City Council of the City of Richmond

Dear Counsel:

Media General Operations v. City Council of the City of Richmond

City council meeting to discuss performance of city manager improperly strayed into discussion of city's soaring crime rate. No authority for closing a proceeding to present closing arguments in a case challenging the propriety of a closed meeting.

Beck v. Shelton

FOIA does not apply to members-elect. Exchange of multiple e-mails over a several-hour period not an illegal electronic meeting. Neighborhood meeting no FOIA violation.

U.S. v. Moussaoui (4th Cir. on access to court records)

Here, a group of media companies asked to intervene in the trial of accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. They sought access to portions of the record and of the pleadings and motions made by the government. The 4th Circuit agreed with their contention that sealing off all such records was unnecessarily restrictive, and agreed to provide access to the records after first redacting classified information. Judicial documents receive First Amendment status when (1) the place and process have historically been open to the press and general public and (2) public access plays a significant positive role in the functioning of the particular process in question. Even First Amendment rights can be curtailed, though, in cases of compelling governmental interest -- and the national security concerns here met that standard.

Rossignol v. Voorhaar (4th Cir. on censorship)

A newspaper publisher brought a 1983 suit for violation of its First Amendment rights, after county sheriff deputies worried about the paper’s Election Day editorials conspired to buy out the paper’s entire stock from vendors across the county. The district court gave summary judgment for the deputies, saying they acted privately and not under color of state law, as a 1983 suit demands. The 4th circuit reversed the summary judgment, though, because: (1) the deputies sought to censor the publisher's criticism of them in their official roles, (2) their official positions were an intimidating asset in the execution of their plan, and (3) this sort of quasi-private conspiracy by public officials was precisely the target of § 1983. Notably, the court found that the deputies' actions bore a sufficiently close nexus with the State to be fairly treated as that of the State itself.

Globe Newspaper Company v. Commonwealth

Newspapers asked to obtain DNA evidence from a criminal trial and subject it to retesting under modern methods. The Court affirmed a lower court’s decision to deny that request. The right of access to the courts is not so broadly defined under the United States or Virginia Constitutions. Furthermore, the DNA evidence was not a "public record" under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

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