Judge's FOIA Ruling Creates More Questions Than Answers

Jul 3, 2017

How much information should the public have about members of the General Assembly? And how should they go about getting it?

A public records request for details of a state senator's Facebook page opened a can of legal worms in Henrico County. A judge determined that the clerk of the Senate, not the state senator, should be responsible for failing to comply with the request. Michael Matheson represented Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavnat. “Unfortunately because of the technical grounds on which the case was disposed of, we don’t have an opportunity to really look at the interesting issue here, which is whether or not when a third party makes a post on a private Facebook page whether you can send a FOIA request for that.”

That issue remains unresolved. Megan Rhyne at the Coalition for Open Government, however, says the ruling opens up new uncertainty. The judge determined that members of the public can not submit public records requests to individual senators and delegates. The judge says the Freedom of Information Act applies to public bodies, not elected officials 

“This is an interpretation that I have never seen even argued much less ruled upon, and I just don’t get it," Rhyne said. "And I’m hoping that something will be done about it.”

She says she hopes that members of the General Assembly will take up this issue next year to clear up any confusion about who should receive public records requests and how much information should be public. 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association