AP sues for papers on W. Va. chief justice

Chris Rizo May 1, 2008, 12:51pm


CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Legal Newsline)-The Associated Press is suing for access to information related to the West Virginia chief justice, Elliott "Spike" Maynard.

The AP reported that it has asked a Kanawha Circuit Court judge to force the high court's administrator to comply with the state's Freedom of Information Act, and release e-mails, visitor logs and other records pertaining to Maynard.

The news service is seeking the records as part of its investigation into the chief justice and his ties to Massey Energy Chief Executive Officer Donald Blankenship.

Maynard is seeking re-election to a 12-year term this year.

The two men were photographed together during July 2006 vacations along the French Riviera and in Monaco, at the same time a verdict against Massey Energy was pending before the high court.

"While it is abundantly clear what is at the heart of this particular request, any demand for the disclosure of communications or information of West Virginia Supreme Court Justices has effects well beyond any singular request," court administrator Steve Canterbury said in a statement.

The complaint, filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court, argues that the FOIA law allows residents to inspect records held by a public body and the definition of public body includes state officers and West Virginia's "judicial departments."

However, Canterbury said court orders, pleadings and budget documents are made public, but private communications of judicial officers and court employees is not subject to public inspection.

He said releasing the information maybe is unconstitutional and would set a bad precedent that down the road would affect other judges in lower courts, including those in family court, juvenile court, as well as magistrates and some commissioners.

"The legislative branch, through the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) statute, cannot require the judicial branch of government to disclose the communications of its members," Canterbury said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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