Testing the “working papers” environment

It’s been a busy time for FOIA lately.  There’s the Daily Press’s worthy crusade to bring some transparency to the judicial branch, which has encountered resistance from both the bureaucrats at OES and court clerks.  There’s the deceptively rigid wall against transparency — and fancy water — that is your only legal source for liquor in Virginia.  And there’s the challenge to the policy in some Virginia police departments against giving family members information on the suicide of a loved one, protecting them by keeping them in the dark.  This post highlights another interesting FOIA suit that has gotten less attention so far.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, August 18th, at noon, the Richmond Circuit Court will hear Horner v. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (case no. CL15002505), which puts at issue one manifestation of the McAuliffe administration’s tendency to assert Va. Code § 2.2-3705.7(2)’s “working papers” exemption for everything under the sun.

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FOIA for the death penalty, or the death penalty for FOIA?

UPDATE (9/20): DOC won.

Every case before Virginia’s highest court is a big deal. But for the second time in as many years, the Supreme Court of Virginia is poised to decide issues of great significance for FOIA, above and beyond the regular significance of the court’s decisions.

Next Wednesday, June 3, the Court will hear the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) v. Scott Surovell. This is not the first time Delegate (and Senate-candidate) Surovell has fought for transparency, and in this case, he seeks to do so by bringing some sunlight to the administration of the death penalty in Virginia. The death penalty may be on the decline in Virginia, and now abolished in Nebraska, but it remains a hot and heavily litigated subject.

This post explains the case and includes links to the parties’ briefs – DOC’s Opening Brief, Surovell’s Brief, and DOC’s Reply Brief. (A very large tip of the hat to Surovell’s counsel, who provided these copies. The Supreme Court of Virginia, apparently content to be below average, still does not deign to provide the public online access to briefs or other case documents.)

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The mess at OES

If you care at all about open government in Virginia, you should be closely following the ongoing saga of the Daily Press’s attempts to get case information in bulk from the judicial branch and, most notably, the remarkable extent of resistance to transparency being displayed by the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES). Daily Press reporter Dave Ress, who (along with his colleagues) deserves a thank you from all of us, recently released OES’s May 14, 2015, letter declining to provide a copy of the case information database, despite the recent FOIA Council advisory opinion that OES should do so. This post examines OES’s 10-page, single-spaced, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink, anti-openness letter.

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The AG opines… so what? Part 2

The last post explained why Virginia’s AGs issue opinions, why AG opinions matter but don’t control agencies, and what effect AG opinions have in court. This post examines the recent opinion concerning mug shots and considers what can be done if an AG opinion is wrong or incomplete.

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Happy Crossover Day

Happy Crossover Day, fellow Virginians!  For any non-lawmaking junkies reading this post, “crossover”, which happens at the end of the day today, is the point after which each house of the General Assembly begins to consider only bills that have passed the other house.  It’s a key point in the General Assembly session calendar – it’s a deadline, because bills that haven’t passed the house in which they started can’t be considered further; and it’s a new beginning, because the work that helped bills pass one house now needs to be repeated in the other, from subcommittees to floor votes.

This post offers a couple of overall thoughts, and a few bill status updates, on this happy mid-Session occasion.

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Takeaways from a General Assembly committee meeting

Monday afternoon, the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology met to plow through a number of bills, including several relevant to open government. This post discusses the danger to public safety that FOIA poses and other things the audience could have learned from this instance of legislative sausage-making.

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Secret subpoenas, email archiving, and FOIA consequences – more 2015 bills

This post (the third in a series on 2015 bills) discusses two bills to sharpen the teeth behind FOIA by adding new potential consequences for violations (HB1646 and HB2223), a bill that would require centralized email archiving (SB674), and two bills that would permit secret subpoenas for Internet information, with no checks at all on prosecutors (HB1946 and SB919).

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More quick takes on 2015 bills

Continuing a series of posts (begun Monday) about bills in the 2015 General Assembly session, and resolutely ignoring the State of the Union nonsense, this post discusses (i) HB1573, concerning the Attorney General’s duties in representing the Commonwealth; (ii) HB1405 & HB1438, this year’s edition of the annual cage match between localities and newspapers on public notices; and (iii) HB1277 & SB955, which would permit and regulate hemp production.

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