Judge rules: Give me those emails you say are private

Loudon County, Virginia has been a hotbed of public records controversy this year. We gave the STOTW award to Milari Madison last month. (Madison was attacked in a very unpleasant way for filing an open records request.)

Sally Mann is another sunshine activist in Loudon County. Mann has been asking for copies of e-mails from county supervisor Lori Waters. Nine individuals who have been in contact with supervisor Waters opposed a land-use application of Mann “and ridiculed her on various Web sites.”

When Mann FOIAd for the e-mail correspondence between Waters and these nine individuals, Waters withheld some of the correspondence, saying that it was private. It appears from this news article that Supervisor Waters defines campaign-related e-mails as falling into the private category. It also appears that Supervisor Waters herself decided which e-mails were private (or campaign-related) and redactable, as opposed to this decision being made by a FOIA compliance officer for the county.

The judge in the case , Judge Dean Worcester, said that Supervisor Waters can’t withhold “private’ emails from Sally Mann.

Judge Worcester said it would not be appropriate “to give a public official the right to decide on his or her own discretion which documents are public and which are private.” He also said his ruling might infringe on the privacy of a public figure but “that is simply a consequence of being a public official.”

The e-mails in contention were mostly produced by Supervisor Waters at home, on a computer she owns.

The judge’s decision was immediately appealed by Supervisor Waters. The curiosity level of Loudon County residents about what those emails say immediately escalated.

Some updates on this story:

The FOI FYI blog comments.

Blogger Ric James posted a thoughtful reflection here on the downside of this ruling.


3 responses to “Judge rules: Give me those emails you say are private

  1. Pingback: Update on Loudon County judicial ruling «

  2. Pingback: What distinguishes a campaign e-mail from a public document? «

  3. i think we get communism back

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