Transparency News 2/4/20



February 4, 2020

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state & local news stories



Eastern Virginia Medical School is trying to beef up its email security following a phishing scam that could have exposed employees’ personal information, including bank accounts and Social Security numbers. EVMS president and provost Richard V. Homan informed staff of the breach Monday. The school had discovered Wednesday that some files might have been accessed through a scam. EVMS spokesman Vincent Rhodes said an external entity sent a message that seemed to come from an EVMS email address. A few employees were victims of the scam, he said, and some of the files in their mailboxes included “a significant amount of information for employees.”
The Virginian-Pilot

An ex-employee who admitted stealing money from Portsmouth’s housing authority was ordered Monday to spend five years on probation and pay back the cash. Kimberly Ward pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement as part of a deal with prosecutors. A fourth count was dropped as part of the agreement. It wasn’t the first time Ward stole from an employer. She was convicted of embezzlement at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters more than a decade ago. Despite that, she was hired by the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority and given an official credit card in 2016 even as federal investigators were looking into its weak accounting practices. Months later, the authority reported $8,000 in fraudulent charges to police and fired Ward. Officials with the housing authority initially declined to press charges, but she was indicted on four counts of embezzlement about a month after The Virginian-Pilot wrote about the missing money.
The Virginian-Pilot

stories of national interest

The federal judiciary charges 10 cents per page to pull up court files from its online record repository. The fees can add up quickly, and users must consider whether each click to view a public record is worth the cost. But a lawsuit in court Monday in Washington challenges the government’s paywall to search online for case documents through the service known as PACER, an acronym for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. “The best policy is to make PACER free,” a group of retired federal judges told the court. Judicial records should be “as widely available as possible” and “wealth should not control access to justice,” according to a brief from the former judges, including Richard A. Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and Nancy Gertner of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.
The Washington Post

A binding opinion by the Illinois Attorney General's office says that a local government violated that state's FOIA when it destroyed records after a request for them had been made. That is, someone asked for the records, then the local government destroyed them.
Illinois Attorney General

A provision buried deep in Gov. Charlie Baker's proposed budget would limit access to birth and death certificates in Massachusetts. If approved, individuals would be able to obtain their own vital records but access would be restricted for the public. Birth and marriage certificates would not be available to the public until 90 years after the event. Death certificates would be kept under wraps until 50 years after the death.


"Judicial records should be 'as widely available as possible' and 'wealth should not control access to justice,'”


editorials & columns

"Voters need to know they are being heard, and it’s heartening to know that their hopes and trust were not misplaced."

Many Virginians likely were surprised to discover that General Assembly members enjoy immunity from prosecution while they’re serving in Richmond. State Sen. Bryce Reeves — who represents Orange County and part of Albemarle and Louisa — has filed legislation to remove immunity in most cases. Legislative immunity is an ancient provision, also enshrined in the state constitution, intended to stop political foes from undermining opponents by engineering charges against them. Such shenanigans could distract a lawmaker from his or her duties — or even take the lawmaker out of action altogether during a legislative session. Mr. Reeves’ proposed legislation would eliminate the immunity in most instances but strive to retain the protection against the malicious filing of charges. His bill would require that charges be placed only by prosecutors or law enforcement officials in the jurisdiction in which the alleged offense occurred. Charges could not be pressed by citizens, including other politicians. The proposed legislation would level the playing field between lawmakers and those whom they profess to serve. The law — any law — should apply equally to all.
The Daily Progress

Public hearings are ideal opportunities for people to make known their questions, concerns and, when applicable, their fears on whatever topic is at hand. Usually, those subjects are concerned with policies that could affect a large number of residents or even whole localities. Such was the case when many people attended the Southampton County Board of Supervisors meeting this past Tuesday evening. Person after person got up to speak against a proposal to amend zoning that could allow solar panels to be set up in another area of Southampton. We understand the reasoning of both the opponents and proponents, the latter of whom made a salient point about property rights of an individual. That in itself is a topic for another editorial. What impressed us even more than the decision itself was that the supervisors had really listened to their constituents, and also gave their own informed reasons to support the votes. Voters need to know they are being heard, and it’s heartening to known that their hopes and trust were not misplaced.
Tidewater News