West Virginia

d. Requirement to meet in public before closing meeting.

An initial public session, during which the presiding officer presents the justification for closure and the body votes on the issue, is a prerequisite to any executive session. W. Va. Code §  6-9A-4.

a. Attorney fees.

Reasonable attorney fees may be awarded to successful FOIA plaintiffs. Daily Gazette Co. Inc. v. W.Va. Development Office, 206 W.Va. 51, 521 S.E.2d 543 (1999). West Virginia Code § 29B-1-7 provides:

Any person who is denied access to public records requested pursuant to this article and who successfully brings a suit filed pursuant to section five of this article shall be entitled to recover his or her attorney fees and court costs from the public body that denied him or her access to the records.

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

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

6. Other.

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

B. Probate

Overview

West Virginia

1. To whom is the appeal made?

Appeals are made from the circuit court level directly to the state Supreme Court. There is no intermediate court of appeals in West Virginia. Although it unlikely that a reporter subpoena would be issued in a magistrate court proceeding in West Virginia, appeals from Magistrate Court go first to the circuit court, and then to the state Supreme Court, with the circuit court acting as an intermediate appellate court.

A. Adjudications by administrative bodies.

Adjudicatory hearings by state or municipal bodies fall within the Open Meeting Act definition of "meeting." However, in defining the word "meeting," the Legislature excepted "any meeting for the purpose of making an adjudicatory decision in any quasi-judicial, administrative or court of claims proceeding." W. Va. Code §  6-9A-2(6). The exemption thus exempts meetings of such bodies in which the members discuss among themselves decisions that they must make in the course of an adjudication.

B. Absolute or qualified privilege

The reporters' privilege is a qualified one in West Virginia. However, West Virginia treats all information acquired by the reporter in the news-gathering process in the same, qualified manner. Thus, whether the information sought from a reporter is the identity of a confidential source, or unpublished, non-confidential notes or observations, the qualified privilege is the same. Unfortunately, although the qualified protection afforded such information in civil cases is quite good, there is at present no absolute privilege in West Virginia for confidential source identities.

1. Executive branch agencies.

Since the Open Meetings Act applies only to proceedings of the "governing body" of a public agency, defined as entities with two or more members, individual executives such as a governor or mayor are not covered by the statute. This conclusion simply means a governor can meet with his staff without being required to open such a meeting to the public. However, where the mayor is acting in connection with a city council meeting, he becomes part of a public agency and the meeting would be covered by the Open Meetings Act.

F. Are there sanctions for noncompliance?

The FOIA was amended in 2001 to make "any custodian of any public records who willfully violates the provision of [FOIA] may be charged with a misdemeanor and upon conviction the custodian may be fined not less than two hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars or be imprisoned for more than twenty days, or both. W. Va. Code § 29B-1-6.