West Virginia

H. Coroners reports.

Coroners reports would most likely be treated the same as autopsy reports (see IV. A. supra), i.e., they may fall within the "personal information" exemption of the FOIA and thus be subject to the Cline balancing test, with some degree of privacy protection for the records of deceased persons. See Jeffery v. McHugh, 166 W. Va. 379, 273 S.E.2d 837 (1980) (upholding the confidentiality of juvenile court records, which were specifically exempt from disclosure under W. Va. Code § 49-7-1, even though the juvenile involved had died).

A. Who can request records?

Any person or entity may obtain access to records through the Freedom of Information Act. The statute provides that "[e]very person has a right to inspect or copy any public record" and specifies the term "'[P]erson' includes any natural person, corporation, partnership, firm or association." W. Va. Code §  29B-1-2.

2. Applicable time limits.

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

10. Fines.

A "willful" violation of the Freedom of Information Act by a custodian of public records is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of "not less than two hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars. W. Va. Code § 29B-1-6.

4. Standard of review

All questions or interpretations of law are subject to a de novo standard of review. Findings of fact made by a jury, or by a judge sitting as the finder of fact at trial, are reviewed under a "clearly erroneous" standard; however, factual findings made by a lower court (if any) in matters concerning the assertion of a reporters' privilege typically are derived from affidavits or pleadings, a de novo standard would apply to any such findings made by the lower court.

1. Accident reports.

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

2. Criminal

In the only West Virginia criminal case discussing a reporter's privilege, State ex rel. Charleston Mail Ass'n v. Ranson, 200 W.Va. 5, 488 S.E.2d 5 (1997), the court held that a subpoena to a reporter in a criminal case is treated differently than a subpoena to a reporter in a civil case, at least when the subpoena comes from a criminal defendant. The court agreed that a qualified privilege still exists for reporters in criminal cases, but slightly lowered the standard for breaching the privilege because of the criminal defendants' Sixth Amendment rights.

C. What records are and are not subject to the act?

(This section is blank. See the subpoints below.)

B. Probate


West Virginia

9. Availability of court costs and attorneys' fees.

In 1993 the Open Meetings Act was amended to permit the courts to order the governing body to pay the "necessary attorney fees and expenses" of persons bringing suit under the statute if (a) the court entered an order compelling compliance or enjoining noncompliance with the statute, or annulling a decision made in violation of the act; and (b) the court finds the governing body "intentionally violated the provisions" of the statute. W. Va. Code § 6-9A-6(7).