Stronger FOIA law now under review in Virginia

ATI Praises VA House Passage of Strengthened FOIA Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, February 9, 2011

The American Tradition Institute today praised yesterday’s passage of a stronger Freedom of Information Act law in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s House of Delegates, after the University of Virginia had previously misled a House member about the existence of records pertaining to former UVA climate scientist Michael Mann.

Delegate Robert Marshall, who recently joined ATI Environmental Law Center senior director of litigation Christopher Horner and Virginia resident David Schnare in a FOIA request of UVA’s records on Mann, had previously been denied by the university in a request of his own. Marshall sponsored the bill, which passed the House in a 95-3 vote. The legislation doubles the civil penalty for failure to comply with the law; previously violators could be assessed between $250 and $1,000, but under Marshall’s bill the fines would be between $500 and $2,000. The Virginia Senate will now consider the proposed changes.

“We simply cannot tolerate a situation like the UVA. FOIA officials told me that no documents existed,” Del. Marshall told Virginia Statehouse News. “This bill sends a message that the House of Delegates does not think that the prior penalty was sufficient.”

On Jan. 6 ATI’s Environmental Law Center requested from UVA emails and other documents related to claims made by Dr. Mann to obtain, and claim payment under, certain taxpayer-funded grants. Mann, currently at Pennsylvania State University, worked at the UVA’s Department of Environmental Sciences when he produced what was hailed at the time as the ‘smoking gun’ affirming the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming.

In response to Del. Marshall’s previous FOIA request, UVA had denied these records existed. But during the course of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s pre-investigation under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (“FATA”), UVA dropped that stance. Court records reveal that counsel for the University has indicated instead that the Mann-related records do in fact exist, on a backup server. However, now UVA is in delay mode in response to ATI’s FOIA request.

“Public servants need to understand that the records in their custody belong to taxpayers, not to themselves,” said Paul Chesser, executive director of ATI. “Let’s hope this legislation is passed so that deception and disrespect of an elected official, and abuse of public information laws, will incur a harsher penalty.”

See ATI’s Virginia Freedom of Information Act request for Michael Mann’s records at University of Virginia (PDF)

See ATI’s Virginia Freedom of Information Act request for donor records of University of Virginia for response to Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli’s investigation (PDF)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, February 9, 2011

Contact: Paul Chesser, paul.chesser@atinstitute.org

202-670-2680

If you cannot read this press release, please click here: http://www.atinstitute.org/blog_post/show/77

ATI Praises VA House Passage of Strengthened FOIA Law

The American Tradition Institute today praised yesterday’s passage of a stronger Freedom of Information Act law in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s House of Delegates, after the University of Virginia had previously misled a House member about the existence of records pertaining to former UVA climate scientist Michael Mann.

Delegate Robert Marshall, who recently joined ATI Environmental Law Center senior director of litigation Christopher Horner and Virginia resident David Schnare in a FOIA request of UVA’s records on Mann, had previously been denied by the university in a request of his own. Marshall sponsored the bill, which passed the House in a 95-3 vote. The legislation doubles the civil penalty for failure to comply with the law; previously violators could be assessed between $250 and $1,000, but under Marshall’s bill the fines would be between $500 and $2,000. The Virginia Senate will now consider the proposed changes.

“We simply cannot tolerate a situation like the UVA. FOIA officials told me that no documents existed,” Del. Marshall told Virginia Statehouse News ( http://virginia.statehousenewsonline.com/2877/house-tightens-violations-to-states-foia-laws/ ). “This bill sends a message that the House of Delegates does not think that the prior penalty was sufficient.”

On Jan. 6 ATI’s Environmental Law Center requested from UVA emails and other documents related to claims made by Dr. Mann to obtain, and claim payment under, certain taxpayer-funded grants. Mann, currently at Pennsylvania State University, worked at the UVA’s Department of Environmental Sciences when he produced what was hailed at the time as the ‘smoking gun’ affirming the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming.

In response to Del. Marshall’s previous FOIA request, UVA had denied these records existed. But during the course of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s pre-investigation under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (“FATA”), UVA dropped that stance. Court records reveal that counsel for the University has indicated instead that the Mann-related records do in fact exist, on a backup server. However, now UVA is in delay mode in response to ATI’s FOIA request.

“Public servants need to understand that the records in their custody belong to taxpayers, not to themselves,” said Paul Chesser, executive director of ATI. “Let’s hope this legislation is passed so that deception and disrespect of an elected official, and abuse of public information laws, will incur a harsher penalty.”

See ATI’s Virginia Freedom of Information Act request for Michael Mann’s records at University of Virginia ( http://www.atinstitute.org/uploads/File/ATI_UVA_Mann_FOIA_Final.pdf )

See ATI’s Virginia Freedom of Information Act request for donor records of University of Virginia for response to Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli’s investigation ( http://www.atinstitute.org/uploads/File/ATI_UVA_Donors_FOIA.pdf )

For an interview with American Tradition Institute executive director Paul Chesser, call (202)670-2680 or email paul.chesser@atinstitute.org.

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51 thoughts on “Stronger FOIA law now under review in Virginia

  1. Stronger law not ratified. Still no emails produced under the FOIA. Stonewalling continues, while Obama and Chu proceed.

  2. I just have this feeling that a box of strong magnets are about to get accidental stored right next to a certain server at UVA , ‘after all who was to know they would have an effect’

  3. If they are willing to spend half a million to fight to keep the records from prying eyes, it seems unlikely that a $2000 dollar fine is much of a deterent.

  4. Minuscule financial penalties merely provide incentives to malfeasant public officialdom in pursuit of PR self-aggrandizement.
    By analogy with Sarbanes-Oxley, the time is past-due to specify tax-funded operations’ direct accountability and responsibility for complying with FOIA as a fiduciary obligation akin to public interest in suppressing accounting fraud.
    To the extent insular, ossifed academic elites succeed in immunizing themselves from public scrutiny, just so will corruption permeate insiders’ self-dealings on every level. AGW for years has been a classic case.

  5. “… under Marshall’s bill the fines would be between $500 and $2,000.” ???
    They will thumb their noses at this also. The solution is to give them 3 months to comply and if they fail, cut the organizations funding by 50% for each month they are out of compliance… each and every month.
    After their staff quits from not getting paid, replace them.

  6. Well, I’m a little underwhelmed by the increase in the penalty. They’re going to have to put some real teeth into the penalty or the law will continue to be ignored.

  7. Make it $2000/week after the first 30 days, with ongoing collections (they need to start pay each and every week, or penalties and interest begin to pile up)

  8. They need to add jail time to the fine–like one day in the slammer for each $1 of fine. Now THAT would put some teeth into the law. Then the perpetrators should be fired for insubordination and obstruction–they’d be good for flippin’ burgers (or working in the Obama administration) and that’s about it.

  9. What point is the penalty? As a vast number of FOI requests are sent to public bodies, won’t the penalty simply be paid out of the public purse? If so, how does this act as a deterent or as an incentive to comply?
    It is necessary to give the law some real teeth. Consideration should be given to making those responsibe for keeping the record liable to pay out of their own pocket both the legal costs of resisting compliance and any fine for non compliance, then that might act as a deterent against non compliance. Likewise, repeated and persistent non compliance should perhaps lead to a small term of imprisonment (say 28 days).

  10. When did the lawyer and UVA officials “realize” the information was backed up? Who knew and when did they know it?
    If it can be proven that the lawyer perjured himself, can he be prosecuted? Disbarred at least? If he asserts and it can be shown that he really did not know, can he be proclaimed terminally stupid and disbarred for public ignorance? Too many of these sleaze-balls running around loose these days.

  11. Of course, since the FOI laws in Great Britain
    and especially those in the various States and
    the United States itself have been used as a veil
    by the “Team” and their supporters, we get stuff
    like Princes Charles flapping about “deniers” not
    getting behind the body of “proof” for Global
    Warming.
    See:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12403292
    If it can’t be shown to be false, it must be true.
    With good PR the Big Lie has great staying power.

  12. I thought it was against the law………….
    If I embezzled a $1/2 million, and the fine was $2000…
    ….I know I would really have to think about it /sarc

  13. There’s too much money involved for the truth to ever emerge. The online Washington Examiner this week is detailing the corruption of our government by an ultra-rich environmental groups. It is truly frightening in its scope, including our tax dollars going to fund the groups, and the present executive branch’s share in the money. Since GE is one of the big players, this collection of articles needs to be public knowledge.

  14. Virginia through its politicians has a long history of protecting any and all behavior by the universities in this state – that includes republicans as well as democrats!

  15. REPLY: That’s dated Feb 10, 2010, this is 2011. Old news -Anthony
    Ahh man, thought I scooped something…always late to the game. 🙂

  16. What about those amounts per day until FOI requests fulfilled. I don’t see a deterrent here – didn’t UVA spend another half million of Taxpayers money to fight it?

  17. Del. Marshall told Virginia Statehouse News. “This bill sends a message that the House of Delegates does not think that the prior penalty was sufficient.”
    Whoa! there fightin’ talk Bob.
    You sent them a clear message alright: nothing to worry about, keep lying in response FOI requests.
    Jeez, I would not like to see these Dep’s when they get mad. I bet they raise thier voices an’ all.

  18. The way to deal with this is to issue a search warrant and seize the server.
    Then prosecute any and all for conspiracy to violate the FOI law and depending on what they find on the server conspiracy to commit fraud against the commonwealth of Virginia. Perhaps one or more of the birdies will sing when facing real jail time.

  19. ditto to Scott.
    Hundreds of billions in America, over a trillion worldwide, have buttressed the Warmist political ponzi scheme.
    Get real.

  20. Increasing the penalty won’t matter a bit. The Carbon Cult has plenty of money. Also, every research grant goes partly to the profs doing the research and partly to the university for “overhead”. Typically 60% to prof, 40% to univ. So UVA can just ask for bigger grants from BP or whoever is funding their own Carbon Cultists, on the grounds that “overhead” from annoying litigious mosquitos (like the state government) has increased.
    Jail would be satisfying but won’t happen. Judges belong to the same Party as the profs.
    The legislature has the absolute power to defund the ENTIRE university, starting with the football program. This is the only real cure.

  21. JohnWho:
    “but add to it a reduction or stoppage of funding until compliance with the FOIA request.”
    That should happen regardless of the fine.

  22. This is a symbolic gesture and that is the extent of the message it sends. There is nothing tough about a penalty that slaps both wrists. In practical terms it means “we will cut your funding by $2000 – get over it!”. Were it not so sad it would be funny. It is sad because this will not be visited again soon in the great commonwealth of Virginia.

  23. To put things into perspective, the penalty for downloading copyrighted music from the internet is up to $150,000 – per song! So the penalty for ignoring a FOIA request is scheduled to go up from a pathetic $1000 to … an almost equally miserable $2000?
    Am I the only one left scratching my head trying to make sense of these numbers.
    Perhaps the reasoning is that the $150,000 per song is payed by individual teenagers whereas the $2000 FOIA penalty would usually be paid by large corporations. And as everyone knows American teenagers are by definition guilty and no punishment is too severe for them. They should be punished! And if they can’t afford to pay – hang ’em I say. Whereas large corporations are just ordinary fictional people trying to get by and make a indecent profit for their shareholders in China.
    Yup – that makes sense.

  24. The increase in fines seems miniscule, true.
    But I like the public announcement of why the Commonwealth of Virginia’s House of Delegates is seeking to increase the fines. That public statement is the benefit of the proposed law change. Public openness on the stonewalling behavior of some climate scientists and the behavior of some condoning Universities is an effective antidote against them.
    John

  25. This may not be relevant to FOIA requests, but many universities are adopting policies that delete all email after a set period on university servers, typically around 3 months. It’s completely up to the faculty to archive their own correspondence off university systems.

  26. $1000 raised to $ 2,000, is this a joke? That is not even as much as inflation. The cost of complying is more then this amount. This is chump change to these people. pg

  27. Jail time would serve far better an incentive than a small fee that some billionaire could simply front the individual in order to keep public information private.

  28. A prison sentence is the best final solution. Give them some time (they have had too much already), then a fine which increases each week to a significant amount. Finally jail time. I bet they will move their a$$e$ when they face the slammer.

  29. This may not be relevant to FOIA requests, but many universities are adopting policies that delete all email after a set period on university servers, typically around 3 months. It’s completely up to the faculty to archive their own correspondence off university systems.

    All ours is archived automatically for 10 years.

  30. But I thought a guy in a tall white hat and a star on his shirt would ride into town and shoot the bad guys who have been robbing the hard-working, God-fearing townspeople.
    Ouch! Just woken up enjoying more silly dreams about the way the West was won.

  31. FOI has always been, imho, a twisted, sometimes good, sometimes bad and always prone to errors and all sorts of shenanigans from both the requesting person(s) to the holder of the records. The excuses first revolve around money (storage, cataloguing, etc) and then “really, really difficult” then no staff and finally “woops, gone”. There are simple solutions.
    Require all electronic media from emails to Prof. Dunderhead’s latest proof of climate calamity have a public portal read-only access to anyone via the internet. Second, as part of the portal, allow anyone that wants to pay a bandwidth fee the ability to download all or a segment of the media. Let me be clear. Tell the all the folks that work at these education places that what they do, produce, email up to and including what they dispose in the bathrooms are public property. Period. There choice to continue sucking at the taxpayers wallet since, if they don’t like it, they leave. If they want stuff private, let them use their i and their own ISP/private email/facebook/whatever accounts but not even with public paid telephones or internet access points, etc. For the few things that should be kept confidential/secret, like student records, let them be on separate (as hopefully they are now) but not hosting any email. For public access data disallow any and all encryption subject to immediate dismissal. Folks can spend a few pages filling in other exceptions for things like national security contracts.
    The point is to force the folks to go underground. Even if it drives most of the academics to work for ACORN, it won’t be a great loss. As someone who has hired recent college grads over the course of four decades, I can assure you the kids are still as smart as they’ve ever been, it’s just they’re woefully uneducated.

  32. Brandon Caswell at 3:51 pm:
    “If they are willing to spend half a million to fight to keep the records from prying eyes…”
    I’ve read several times that UVA’s legal defense is/has been paid in the entirety by “private donors.”
    Has it ever been revealed who these donors are? And if not, wouldn’t that info itself be subject to FOIA?

  33. If an Institution doesn’t comply with FOI requests within whatever time frame is set by law, then the institutions ability to garner public funds should be immediately terminated, 6 months for every day over the alloted time. Similiar to the NCAA sanctioning a schools sports team. This will have a dterimental affect on drawing top students who would rely on these funds being made avialable for research programs they are interested in.
    Start affecting enrollment and possibly a schools accrediation and you’ll hit them where it hurts most. IMHO

  34. Dont worry folks; The DoD has all telephones and all mails stored anyway.
    Since the Pentagon now thinks global warming is a security issue, shouldn’t the lack of warming be so, too?
    Therefore; Pentagon, please investigate; Is global warming real, or not?

  35. Kwik: It would not surprise me if the existence of the gulf stream was not a “security” issue at one time . . .

  36. It is good that the bill passed, but really, $2k? For an organization the size of UVA, that is not even a full day of a lawyer’s fee. They need to crank that up to where it really hurts.

  37. PhilJourdan said February 10, 2011 at 9:12 am
    “They need to crank that up to where it really hurts . . . ”
    Just can’t agree with this . . . Not until it is made mandatory to keep some record again . . . . Even under FISA where there was supposed to be a record not to mention some kind of court order they did not keep any record of who, when, where, why or how! You must see the Catch 22 of the situation . . . . The “PATRIOT ACT” essentially made it a “free for all” for criminals& cops OR criminals as cops OR criminals pretending to be cops. . . . It is wonder things are not even worse than they are now . . .
    This is a minor issue comparatively . . but, it’s “the same thing, only different”!

  38. Bowen says:
    February 10, 2011 at 9:43 am
    Just can’t agree with this . . . Not until it is made mandatory to keep some record again . . .

    It is already mandatory to keep those records – for a period of 5 years per law. At least in Virginia.

  39. All of you saying “this is what SHOULD be done” – well, get used to disappointment.
    None of the so-called “leaders”, whether in Virginia or in Congress, have the guts to actually face this and do something REAL about it.
    (For the record: I will happily change my above stated position when provided with solid factual evidence to the contrary..)

  40. The real penalty should be that the entire computer system is taken off-site and examined by people acting on behalf of the wronged party. The guilty party of course, has to pay.
    When the payroll servers spend their second month unavailable, then someone may decide that it wasn’t such a bright idea after all.

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