Transparency News, 1/17/2022


January 17, 2022

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state & local news stories


VCOG's annual
bill chart


VCOG has posted position papers on a baker's dozen of bills. There's a link to this page on our main bill chart page so you can check back for updates in the future.
Position papers on VCOG's website

Siding with Courthouse News on Friday, a federal judge in Virginia found the state’s online civil court system could run afoul of the First Amendment. The Officer of the Court Remote Access system, known as OCRA, makes civil filings available to attorneys via a per-court subscription fee. About 90 of Virginia’s 120 courts participate in the system. Once authorized, a user can access filings from their subscribed courts anywhere they have internet access. But the public and news outlets like California-based Courthouse News have been shut out of OCRA and must instead physically go to state courts to view the very same documents lawyers and judges have easy online access to.  "It is well-settled that the press and public have a right of access to most, if not all, civil court records," wrote Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in an opinion released Friday afternoon. While Hudson allowed two First Amendment counts to proceed, he dismissed an equal protection claim, finding Courthouse News failed to show the state's claimed interest in protecting confidential and private information contained in online court records was without merit. Pending appeals from the state, the dispute could go to trial as early as July.
Courthouse News

A former investigator with the Office of the State Inspector General who investigated the Virginia Parole Board and was fired after finding misconduct filed a federal lawsuit Friday against her former employer and two top officials of Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, alleging wrongful termination and defamation. The investigator, Jennifer Moschetti, said in her lawsuit that the complaint against OSIG, Inspector General Michael Westfall, Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran and Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer “is about protecting whistleblowers.” Moschetti “could never have imagined that ... she would become the scapegoat for having shined a light on [Virginia Parole] Board misconduct,” says the complaint, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Richmond. “But that’s exactly what happened. After she submitted her draft report [in one of the cases], it was sanitized, reduced, redacted and then released, but only in redacted form.” “When the media finally obtained Moschetti’s initial report, which contained far more details about alleged Board misconduct than the sanitized final report, she was investigated, fired and defamed,” the suit says. “She now files this lawsuit for numerous violations of federal and state law in order to vindicate and to restore her good name.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Friday that the criminals behind a ransomware attack on Virginia's legislative agencies had penetrated state computer systems last spring - almost nine months before they prepared to shut down networks critical to the General Assembly session that began this week. Warner, speaking after a private briefing by the director of the assembly's automated services division, said the attack was stymied by a state employee who came to work on a Sunday afternoon last month and discovered that "some of the defenses in the system had started to be taken down." Warner, speaking after a private briefing by the director of the assembly's automated services division, said the attack was stymied by a state employee who came to work on a Sunday afternoon last month and discovered that "some of the defenses in the system had started to be taken down."
Richmond Times-Dispatch

In a bid to defend her reputation, former Portsmouth police chief Angela Greene formalized her objections to a $300,000 agreement to settle a lawsuit filed against her by state Sen. Louise Lucas in court filings this week. The move to settle Lucas’ suit without Greene’s authorization goes beyond the city attorney’s authority and was unnecessary because the claims were baseless, Greene’s attorney argued in a memorandum filed Wednesday in federal court.
The Virginian-Pilot

Three parents have filed suit against Loudoun County Public Schools over the district’s crackdown on who is allowed to speak or even attend in-person regular school board sessions — restrictions that constitute a violation of Virginia open meetings laws, the plaintiffs contend. The parents — Megan Clegg, Megan Rafalski and Adam Rafalski — are represented by a conservative legal group that filed suit in state court last week against the school board and Superintendent Scott Ziegler. The plaintiffs accuse the defendants of repeatedly breaking Virginia’s open meetings law and, consequently, running the school system as a kind of personal fiefdom deaf to the concerns of parents and taxpayers.
Washington Times

The Spotsylvania County School Board plans to consider removing a board policy that prevents individual board members from tasking division staff, investigating student or personnel matters or using their position on the board for partisan gain. In a departure from the School Board’s usual meeting agenda, the agenda for the upcoming meeting moves public comments after new business. Battlefield District representative Nicole Cole said Friday that the agenda change will limit public input into the board’s decisions. “The agenda is posted so we can get public comment on the things we are going to be voting on later, but you put public comment after [new business], so we can’t hear it,” Cole said. “That’s a manipulation of our citizens and the community. You’re saying that you are involving the public, but where your public isn’t in agreement with what you’re trying to do, now you’re trying to limit their input.”
The Free Lance-Star