Friday, December 21, 2007

Virginia sheriff said to be first official to be fined for violating state Freedom of Information Act

A Northern Virginia sheriff "must pay a $250 fine and the plaintiff’s court fees for willfully violating the state’s Freedom of Information Act, a judge ruled Tuesday in Madison County General District Court," reports Rob Humphreys of the Star-Exponent in Culpeper.

"Experts are calling it a potentially precedent-setting case regarding how public officials are punished for failing to comply with open-records requests," writes Humphreys, managing editor of the 7,300-circulation daily owned by Media General Inc. Notably, this case was not brought by a journalist or news organization.

Leigh Purdum, a former employee of Sheriff Erik J. Weaver, sued when Weaver refused to say whom he had appointed to a new citizens advisory board. "Purdum also sought other information about the board, including its meeting dates, the criteria for choosing members, topics of discussion, goals and objectives, and copies of previous minutes," Humphreys writes. After she won, the sheriff "produced the names of the 13 board members."

Jennifer Perkins, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, told the Star-Exponent that the case is “a huge step in the right direction” because no official had been fined in a similar cases. Maria J.K. Everett, executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, told the newspaper that she believed this is the first time a district judge has ruled that an elected official willfully violated a state FOI law. (Read more)

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