Supreme Court rules in FOIA case long delayed by lawmaker

Verdicts & Settlements

A group of elected officials in southwest Virginia violated the state's open government law during meetings about dissolving a public library system, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a case long delayed by a lawmaker's use of a privilege of his office.

State Del. Jeff Campbell, who is also an attorney in private practice, represented the Smyth County Board of Supervisors in the lawsuit brought by the head of a nonprofit that promotes the library.

The court ruled that the board had improperly entered into closed sessions and exceeded the scope of subjects it was allowed to discuss in closed meetings. The justices also found that the circuit court had erred by not awarding attorneys fees and costs to the group suing the board.

Paul Morrison, attorney for the president of the Friends of the Smyth-Bland Regional Library, said while he was pleased with the decision, the fact that the case took so long to come to a resolution means the board now has many new members. The ones who made the error won't have to face the fallout, he said.

“It sounds so cliche to say justice delayed is justice denied, but it’s really true,” he said.

Attorneys who serve in Virginia’s General Assembly or work there have broad discretion to obtain continuances in their cases “as a matter of right” under certain conditions. The Associated Press, citing court records obtained through a public records request, has previously reported that Campbell routinely uses that privilege to delay court proceedings, and has done so at least nine times in a domestic violence case against a former NASCAR driver.

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