West Virginia

State high court upholds trial court's closure of juvenile court proceedings

Secret Courts | Feature | August 9, 1999
Feature
August 9, 1999

WEST VIRGINIA--In mid-July, the state Supreme Court of Appeals in Charleston, the state's highest court, unanimously upheld a trial court's order closing a case concerning the suspension of a student by the school board and sealing juvenile education records because it found a compelling public policy of protecting the confidentiality of juvenile information in all court proceedings exists in the state.

Reporter's privilege upheld in murder trial

Reporter's Privilege | Feature | April 21, 1997
Feature
April 21, 1997

Reporter's privilege upheld in murder trial

04/21/97

WEST VIRGINIA--Affirming that a qualified reporter's privilege does exist in West Virginia, the state Supreme Court in mid-March overturned a Circuit Court judge's decision ordering two newspapers to turn over unpublished photographs to a defendant on trial for murder.

Private session with school administrators violated meetings law

Freedom of Information | Feature | June 17, 1996
Feature
June 17, 1996

Private session with school administrators violated meetings law

06/17/96

WEST VIRGINIA--The state Supreme Court of Appeals in mid-May affirmed 5-0 a circuit court decision holding that the Fayette County School Board violated the Open Governmental Proceedings Act when four of its five members met privately with school system administrators the day before voting on the closing and consolidation of three schools.

Judge quashes subpoenas issued by criminal defendant

Reporter's Privilege | Feature | May 16, 1995
Feature
May 16, 1995

Judge quashes subpoenas issued by criminal defendant

05/16/95

WEST VIRGINIA--In early May, a trial judge quashed subpoenas issued to two newspaper reporters by a criminal defendant who was attempting to force the judge to recuse himself from the case.

c. State attorney general.

(This section is blank. See the point above.)

2. Criminal contempt

There are no known instances of a court sentencing a reporter to a fixed sentence for criminal contempt in failing to comply with a court order to provide information. Such a remedy is highly unusual and unlikely. Nevertheless, conviction for criminal contempt is provided for in West Virginia Code § 61-5-26(d), that allows a court to sentence and/or fine an individual for disobedience to an order of the court. The putative contemnor is permitted a jury trial, but there is no statutory limitation on the amount of the potential fine or the period of incarceration.

1. Rules for active investigations.

Other than cases construing FOIA exemptions, there have been no specific court decisions or statutory references to application of FOIA to active administrative law enforcement investigations. Worker safety and health inspections, or accident investigations arguably may be viewed as falling within the FOIA exemption for records of law-enforcement agencies that deal with the detection and investigation of crime and the internal records and notations of such law-enforcement agencies which are maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement

1. Character of exemptions.

The Open Meetings Act does not permit the closing of a meeting simply because the public agency believes closure would serve the public interest. To the contrary, the statute mandates that "except as expressly and specifically otherwise provided by law . . . all meetings of any governing body shall be open to the public." W. Va. Code § 6-9A-3 (emphasis added).

II. Authority for and source of the right

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has held that a reporter is entitled to a qualified privilege when engaged in the news-gathering function. This qualified privilege was enunciated first in State ex rel. Hudok v. Henry, 182 W.Va. 500, 17 Media L.Rep. 1627, 389 S.E.2d 188 (W.Va. 1990). The state Supreme Court delineated a balancing test for application of the reporter's privilege. The source for the privilege was found in the United States Supreme Court's decision in Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 92 S.Ct.

Appendix

(This section is blank. See the point above.)