For Immediate Release:
Dave Aeikens, SPJ President, (320) 255-8744,
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 211,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief that supports opening records in West Virginia that may shed light on a conflict of interest for a former state Supreme Court chief justice.
At issue is the Associated Press and its request to obtain e-mails between former Justice Elliott Maynard and Donald Blankenship, the CEO of a major coal company. The company, Massey Energy, was the subject of a suit pending before the state Supreme Court when the justice and Blankenship exchanged e-mails and vacationed in Monaco.
Justice Maynard ruled in favor of Massey Energy, but recused himself in a later appeal. He subsequently lost re-election.
After learning of the contact between Justice Maynard and Blankenship, the AP requested e-mails through the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Although it received about half the requested documents, access to other e-mails was denied after the court ruled the remaining e-mails were not subject to state open records laws. The AP is seeking the documents through an appeal before the same court on which Justice Maynard formerly served.
“Public records laws exist for a reason, namely to protect the public’s right to know information about their government,” said SPJ President Dave Aeikens. “The justice, more than anyone, should know that he was a public official and must be accountable to voters and taxpayers.”
This is the third time since January SPJ has intervened in a court case to support access to public information. The most recent case involved prisons in Tennessee withholding records. Read about the case here.
The amicus brief was written by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. In addition to SPJ and the AP, it is supported by the West Virginia ACLU, the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, and the Radio Television News Directors Association.
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.