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Governor's office restores felons' rights without public oversight

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  1. Freedom of Information

    News Media Update         VIRGINIA         Freedom of Information         Jan. 14, 2005    

Governor’s office restores felons’ rights without public oversight

  • Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner’s right to “deliberative process” allows him to keep secret felon case files, a state trial court ruled in denying a state lawmaker’s records request.

Jan. 14, 2005 — Case files used by Gov. Mark R. Warner in deciding whether to restore felons’ civil rights are privileged because they play a role in the governor’s deliberative processes, a trial court ruled Wednesday.

In Virginia, a felony conviction strips an individual of certain civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury or be a notary public. The governor may restore a former convict’s rights after the completion of the felon’s prison sentence.

Republican Delegate Brad P. Marrs made an open records request for the governor’s felon case files to determine if the governor’s office used lax rights restoration standards. When repeated requests failed, he sued for access. Marrs’ staff would not discuss the case or his arguments in court.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Randall Johnson rejected Marrs’ request for an order that the files be disclosed. Relying on a 1991 Virginia Supreme Court decision, Johnson said in a one-page ruling that forcing the files’ release would “amount to interference with [the governor’s] deliberative processes.”

In that 1991 case, Taylor v. Worrell Enterprises Inc., the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the state Freedom of Information Act does not mandate the release of a list of a governor’s itemized long-distance telephone calls. Compelling disclosure of that data would have a chilling effect on the governor’s willingness to use telephone consultations in the future and impair “the ability of the executive to perform his constitutionally required duties,” the court said. “Consequently, a legislatively imposed disclosure requirement would constitute a violation of the separation of powers doctrine.”

Marrs has 30 days to appeal Johnson’s ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court.

(Marrs v. Rimler; Bradley Marrs, Richmond, Va., pro se)RL

© 2005 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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