Everything online journalists need to protect their legal rights. This free resource culls from all Reporters Committee resources and includes exclusive content on digital media law issues.
A West Virginia judge ruled Wednesday that even the state Supreme Court is subject to public records laws, just as “every state officer” would be, The Associated Press said.
The AP had requested e-mails from West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliot “Spike” Maynard as part of its coverage of Maynard's alleged corporate ties, but the request was denied. The wire service reports it then sued for the information under the state Freedom of Information Act.
Lawyers for the high court argued that the request was unconstitutional because the act only applied to court administration, The AP said. Furthermore, the court's attorneys argued, the judiciary must operate independently and FOIA provisions would compromise that.
Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom saw things differently, however, and gave the Supreme Court 10 days to release the documents, according to The AP.
“Given that the application of FOIA to the public records of judicial officers would not invade the constitutional power of the judiciary, the court finds that FOIA, by its express terms, applies to judicial officers,” he said.
The high court has released the e-mails, The AP reported. Bloom did withhold eight of the e-mails the wire service asked for, finding they did not involve public affairs and so were not public records.