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Is Justice Hiding Records?

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Charleston – The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has filed a lawsuit against Governor Jim Justice’s office. They are demanding the release of records related to his official schedule.

The suit was reported by The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Attorneys for Diana Astiz, the committee’s research director, filed the petition seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in Kanawha County Circuit Court. It asks that the Governor be forced to comply with the request.

The suit maintains that refusal by the Governor’s office to comply with the request by the committee is the most recent example of a pattern of turning down such inquiries.

The lawsuit alleges that Justice’s office has consistently denied requests for basic records, such as lists of official meetings scheduled for the governor and his senior staff, as mandated by the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act. 

The records sought have included those involving the governor, his chief of staff, his deputy chief of staff, and his general counsel.

According to a statement released by the committee, the lawsuit was prompted by Justice’s repeated failure to comply with the inquiries.

“Jim Justice cannot hide his work schedule — or lack thereof — from West Virginians, and this is an area which is sure to receive further scrutiny in his nasty primary and in a court of law,” DSCC spokesman David Bergstein said in the statement.

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The petition stresses the importance of transparency in government affairs, particularly in light of Justice’s recent announcement of his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. In the document, Astiz contends that voters have a right to access information about Justice’s activities and performance while in office as they consider their support in the upcoming Senate race.

According to the petition, Astiz submitted a FOIA request to the Governor’s Office on April 13, seeking records of all scheduled official meetings involving Justice and his senior staff since January 2017. However, Justice’s office denied the request in its entirety on April 20, citing exemptions that Astiz argues do not apply to the requested records, according to the complaint.

The suit maintains that denial of the FOIA request constitutes a violation of the law, which guarantees public access to government information unless specifically exempted.

Astiz’s legal team argues that the information is public record under FOIA and should be disclosed. They further assert that exemptions cited by the Governor’s Office, such as those for information of a personal nature and internal memoranda, do not apply in this case.

In addition, the petition says that since voters declared him a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2024, voters have a right to know who he meets with.

According to the petition, the last time these records were made available in 2019, they revealed a concerning pattern. 

Justice was found to have minimal interaction with his cabinet, infrequent presence at the state capitol, and a notable absence during a crucial period of the legislative session.

According to the lawsuit, news outlets, such as The Associated Press and the Charleston Gazette-Mail, questioned Justice’s commitment to his duties. Reports have highlighted his apparent absence from important responsibilities, and the fact that he has refused to make his official schedule and calendar public, the petition says.

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The DSCC is a fundraising organization dedicated to getting Democrats elected to the U.S. Senate. 

The Governor’s Office did not respond to Gazette-Mail requests for comment Tuesday.

Staff and management of wvstatewide.com have written about their belief that the state needs a tougher FOIA statute. They have met regularly with legislators to push for legislation.

At present, no state agency is charged with enforcing FOIA violations and the only recourse is to take the public agency or official to court to force compliance with the law.

Requiring formal court proceedings usually makes enforcing the FOIA too costly for those seeking public information.

This is a developing story that will be updated as events occur.

Author

  • Ron Gregory

    From Mayor of Glenville at age 26 to Assistant Mayor of Charleston, management of various public entities, and countless political races in West Virginia – Ron Gregory is the most noted political correspondent in the state.

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From Mayor of Glenville at age 26 to Assistant Mayor of Charleston, management of various public entities, and countless political races in West Virginia - Ron Gregory is the most noted political correspondent in the state.

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