Records should be released

Published 11:18 am Thursday, September 17, 2015

It’s a shame that our local circuit court clerks have been named in a civil suit because they either won’t comply or haven’t responded to a records request from the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia.

That tells us that they’re willing to go to court and waste tax dollars before turning over their criminal records spanning back more than a decade to The Daily Press, a newspaper in Newport News.

According to Dave Ress, a plaintiff in the suit and a reporter for the Daily Press, clerks in Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward have either not responded to the request or have said they won’t send the files to the newspaper.

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These clerks — elected by the voters in their respective jurisdictions — have a duty to the public, no matter what city or county they’re from across the commonwealth, to make public records public. That’s pretty simple, isn’t it?

“Everything in this office … belongs to the people,” Lunenburg Circuit Court Clerk Gordon Erby told us recently.

We agree with him.

And everything in the Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward clerks’ offices also belongs to the people.

There’s a tool for both elected officials, such as these defiant clerks, and the public that can help shed light on requests such as this, and that’s the Freedom of Information Act.

Before the case goes to a hearing or a trial — which will cost Virginians money — court clerks should comply, respond and release the requested data that belongs to the people to The Daily Press.

The newspaper isn’t asking for special privileges in its request. It’s simply making records, which are supposed to be public, open to the public in a more accessible way.