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Data dissemination law does not apply to constitutional officers

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Data dissemination law does not apply to constitutional officers

  • The supreme court ruled that a city treasurer did not violate the Virginia Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act when she gave employee records to a reporter.

Feb. 5, 2003 — Reversing the decision of the lower court, the Virginia Supreme Court Jan.10 ruled that Chesapeake City Treasurer Barbara Carraway did not violate the Virginia Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act when she gave a newspaper reporter information from political opponent Elizabeth’s Hill’s employment file.

The court ruled that the act does not apply to constitutional officers, such as a city treasurer, only to agencies.

Hill, a previous employee of Carraway, decided in May 2001 to run against Carraway for the position of city treasurer. In response to accusations made by Hill that Carraway had failed to “register a charity group,” Carraway gave information from Hill’s personnel file to a newspaper reporter.

According to court documents, Carraway told the reporter that Hill was “released” from the treasurer’s office following only three weeks of employment.

Hill filed a lawsuit against Carraway Oct. 23, claiming that she had violated the data dissemination act, which calls for certain guidelines in the “collection, retention, and dissemination” of personal information, the court said.

The trial court then found Carraway in violation of the act and awarded Hill attorney fees.

On appeal, the supreme court reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling that the Act does not apply to constitutional officers. An independent public official’s authority is derived from the Constitution of Virginia, although the responsibilities of the position may be determined by statute, the court said.

In June 2001, the Virginia Supreme Court distinguished “constitutional” officers from other public officers in Connell v. Kersey, finding that the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which requires that “public bodies” make records available, does not specifically apply to “constitutional officers” who derive their authority from the state constitution rather than from legislative or executive order.

(Carraway v. Hill) PC


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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