Alliance Joins Brief Challenging Virginia Governor’s Office Reliance on “Working Papers” Exemption to Withhold Records

On August 7th, the Alliance joined a brief in Sawyer v. Virginia, filed in the Virginia Court of Appeals. The case concerns a series of public records requests by nonprofit watchdog American Oversight (“AO”), submitted to the Virginia Office of the Governor, seeking information about a “Tip Line” set up by the Youngkin administration to end the use of what it termed “inherently divisive concepts” in state education. The requests were made under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Va. Code Ann. § 3700, et seq. (“VFOIA”), which creates a broad presumption in favor of unimpeded public access to government records. The Governor’s office withheld several hundred pages of records claiming they were exempt from disclosure under the VFOIA’s “working papers exemption”. AO narrowed the scope of its requests to ensure they do not fall within the scope of that exemption, but the Governor’s office continued to withhold the records. AO filed suit in Arlington County Circuit Court and the court ruled in AO’s favor, ordering the Governor’s office to disclose responsive records. The Governor’s office is appealing that decision, arguing an overly broad interpretation of the exemption that would result in essentially any record or communication merely passing through the office to be exempt from disclosure. The brief, filed by RCFP, urges the Court of Appeals to uphold the Circuit Court’s ruling and argues that the Governor’s interpretation would fly in the face of the intent of the VFOIA. Public access to government records is not only vital to the work of journalists but is also essential to democracy in allowing oversight of the actions of government agencies. Read more.

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