A heartwarming tale for the holidays, in which the lawman runs afoul of the Sunshine Law...you do the crime, you pay the fine.
Madison County (Va.) Sheriff Erik J. Weaver must pay a $250 fine and the plaintiff’s court fees for willfully violating the state’s Freedom of Information Act, a judge ruled Tuesday in Madison County General District Court.
Experts are calling it a potentially precedent-setting case regarding how public officials are punished for failing to comply with open records requests.
Leigh Purdum, a former office employee under Weaver, brought suit when the sheriff refused to identify the people he had appointed to a newly formed citizens advisory board.
Purdum also sought other information about the board, including its meeting dates, the criteria for choosing members, topics of discussion, goals and objectives, and copies of previous minutes.
After Tuesday’s ruling from Judge Robert H. Downer Jr., specially appointed from Albemarle County, Weaver produced the names of the 13 board members.
Maria J.K. Everett, executive director of the state-run Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, believes this is the first time a judge in district court has ruled an elected official willfully violated Virginia FOIA laws.
Everett, who has served in her position since the office was created in July 2000, called the ruling “pretty significant.”
Jennifer Perkins, executive director of the Warrenton-based Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said it’s “a huge step in the right direction.” She said similar cases have always resulted in no monetary punishment.
“It’s a statement,” Perkins said. “The thing we’ve been really frustrated with is (judges’) reluctance to find willful violations when it’s clear to everyone else. … What’s great in this case is that you actually got the punishment.”More here.