For Immediate Release:
Hagit Limor, SPJ President, (513) 852-4012,
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief in support of a case challenging the constitutionality of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
At issue are denied open records requests of Mark McBurney and Roger Hurlbert, both non-residents of Virginia who made records requests under the Act. The current statute denies open records access to anyone who is not a resident of Virginia.
“The rights to freedom of information that our founding fathers guaranteed did not halt at state lines. They always were intended as a federal mandate,” SPJ President Hagit Limor said. “If every state begins restricting information to its own citizens, national investigative reporting could be brought to a standstill. Restrictions on a free press equal restrictions on every individual citizen, as this case proves.”
McBurney, who relocated from Virginia to Rhode Island, twice sought VFOIA documents after the state’s Department of Child Support Enforcement admitted mishandling his child support case. The department denied both requests, citing that he was no longer a Virginia resident.
Hurlbert, a California resident, made a VFOIA request to the Henrico County Assessor’s Office for real estate tax assessment records for his clients. The request was denied because of his non-residency status.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied the case motion for summary judgment filed by McBurney and Hurlbert, which argued that the VFOIA provision requiring in-state residence was unconstitutional. The case is now pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Authored by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the brief argues that the state law has some limited exceptions for non-resident media who either distribute or broadcast within Virginia but effectively shuts out much of the national media and independent journalists who cannot make direct requests to Virginia agencies. The brief was filed March 23.
In one of its roles as a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases. Most recently, SPJ joined a brief seeking to support a TV station in Hattiesburg, Miss., fighting to lift a court order preventing it from airing a videotape of alleged abuse at a youth detention facility.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.