Transparency News 8/15/13


Thursday, August 15, 2013
State and Local Stories


Whether you're rejoicing in the spectacular summer sun or in need of a pick-me-up on a dreary day, listen to VCOG's sunshine mix and remember that sunshine in government is a good thing.

Fredericksburg General District Court Judge John R. Stevens yesterday denied a request by Liberty Guard for an emergency injunction to prohibit City Council's closed-door status update last night on talks with the Hagerstown Suns. "A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy, very unusual," said Andrew Bodoh, the attorney representing Liberty Guard. Going into today's hearing Liberty Guard understood it would be very difficult to prevail, when there wasn't time to bring City Council members into court for a full review of Tuesday night's planned meeting, he said.   
Fredericksburg Patch

Henrico School Board member Diana D. Winston, schools Superintendent Patrick J. Russo and their spouses took a joint vacation to Italy this summer, according to Joe Winston, who defended his wife in an interview Wednesday and played down the controversy in Henrico County Public Schools. Joe Winston, who owns a promotional products company that does business with Henrico schools, said he and his wife vacationed with Russo and his wife in Tuscany for 10 days in late June and early July.The joint vacation occurred as the School Board was considering a contract extension for Russo. The superintendent’s contract stipulates that the board had to consider a contract extension by June 30 and the contract discussion was on the agenda for a closed session on June 20.

Virginia Sen. Phillip Puckett pointed to regional landowners — and not a hotly contested governor’s race — as his impetus for seeking a state investigation of an attorney general staffer’s role in a natural gas royalties dispute. “I want to make it pretty clear … my intentions in this to begin with were not about politics,” Puckett, D- Russell County, said in a Wednesday conference call organized and hosted by the Democratic Party of Virginia. In June, the senator called on the state Office of the Inspector General to investigate emails between a staffer with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office and two energy companies involved in lawsuits with Southwest Virginia landowners.
Roanoke Times

As the Virginia Supreme Court gets ready to hear a case that could redefine the legal basis for judges to deny cameras in Virginia courtrooms, a Fairfax County judge has unexpectedly decided to allow them in the upcoming homicide case of a 19-year-old Vienna woman who was found dead in her car in 2010.
Fairfax Times

National Stories

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Tuesday defended a $32,000 fee state officials have quoted for an open-records search related to the use of solitary confinement of youths, saying taxpayers should be protected from paying for “witch hunts.” The state charges two separate sets of fees: one to retrieve and copy documents, and one for the cost of a lawyer to determine whether those records should be released at all.
Des Moines Register

Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson used her private email to conduct official business, including with a lobbyist, in a possible violation of federal record laws. The emails were part of the latest batch of documents released through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The conservative nonprofit has been digging through Jackson’s correspondence for months after it discovered she used a secret EPA email address under the pseudonym “Richard Windsor.”
Washington Times

For years, the Central Intelligence Agency denied it had a secret file on MIT professor and famed dissident Noam Chomsky. But a new government disclosure obtained by FP reveals for the first time that the agency did in fact gather records on the anti-war iconoclast during his heyday in the 1970s. The disclosure also reveals that Chomsky’s entire CIA file was scrubbed from Langley’s archives, raising questions as to when the file was destroyed and under what authority.
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette


Open Virginia Law: The explanation, via the Office of the Executive Secretary, for why the Supreme Court doesn’t allow the public access to the recordings of oral arguments:  the recordings supposedly capture confidential communications between justices during the arguments.  Let’s take that claim at face value for a moment, without questioning how often that really happens and without lingering on why justices are making confidential comments in open court or why the justices’ microphones lack the on/off switch that is standard on microphones used everywhere else (in and out of state government). The Court’s confidential comments claim provides no legal justification for withholding all access to oral argument records, which arguably are subject to both the Virginia Public Records Act and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act already (as discussed in our prior post).  Redacted versions could, and should, be provided.  Nor does the confidential comments claim provide any explanation for why the Court does not have a court reporter, who could easily be bound by an oath of confidentiality, create a non-confidential transcript.