Virginia

Execution records appeal leads to ruling limiting Virginia FOIA disclosures

Soo Rin Kim | Freedom of Information | News | October 7, 2015
News
October 7, 2015

A recent ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court in a death penalty records case could jeopardize many more open records requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, after the court held that a government agency can withhold an entire document if any portion is exempt and would have to be redacted.

The case started with a victory in Fairfax Circuit Court for Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), who had requested information from the Department of Corrections about the state's methods for executions and the facilities where they are conducted. The department appealed, and the state Supreme Court ruled that state law does not require officials to redact documents. If information in a document is exempt from disclosure, the court said, the entire document can be withheld.

A. Authorization

Overview

Virginia

Virginia does not recognize a right to broadcast court proceedings; trial courts have discretion under Virginia Code § 19.2-266 to permit or deny photography and filming in the courtroom. See Va. Broad. Corp. v. Commonwealth, 749 S.E.2d 313 (Va. 2013). 

C. Competency and commitment proceedings

Overview

Virginia

Virginia recognizes a First Amendment right of access to criminal competency hearings. See In Re Times-World Corp., 26 Media L. Rep. 1330 (Virginia App. 1997). 

C. Other proceedings involving minors

Overview

Virginia

Virginia recognizes a qualified right of access to juvenile court records. See In re Richmond Newspapers Inc., 1988 WL 619412 (Va. Cir. Ct. 1988). 

E. Grand jury records

Overview

Virginia

There is no constitutional or common law right of access to grand jury materials. See In re Antitrust Grand Jury Investigation, 508 F. Supp. 397 (E.D. Va. 1980); In re § 2703(d) Order, 2011 WL 900120 (E.D. Va. Mar. 11, 2011). 

A. Access to voir dire

Overview

Virginia

Because there is a presumption of openness, courts must conduct a hearing before closing suppression hearings or voir dire. See In re Times-World Corp., 373 S.E.2d 474 (Va. Ct. App. 1988). 

J. Other civil court records issues

Overview

Virginia

There is no right of access to civil suit depositions. See Amato v. Richmond, 157 F.R.D. 26 (E.D. Va. 1994). 

G. Settlement records

Overview

Virginia

Settlement agreements submitted to the court for approval are judicial records subject to a common law presumption of openness. See Perreault v. Free Lance-Star, 666 S.E.2d 352 (Va. 2008); Boone v. Suffolk, 88 F. Supp. 2d 603 (E.D. Va. 1999). 

A. In general

Overview

Virginia

The public has a contemporaneous right of access to pleadings. See Charlottesville Newspapers, Inc. v. Berry, 215 Va. 116, 206 S.E.2d 267 (Va. 1974); Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc. v. Fanning, 235 Va. 253, 368 S.E.2d 253 (Va. 1988). 

G. Trial records

Overview

Virginia

Virginia recognizes both constitutional and statutory rights of access to criminal trial records. Sealing is only justified by a compelling government interest. See Daily Press, Inc. v. Commonwealth, 739 S.E.2d 636 (Va. 2013).