CHARLESTON – State Court Administrator Steve Canterbury wants Kanawha Circuit Judge Lewis Bloom to reject a “friend of the court” brief from The West Virginia Record in a dispute over public access to electronic messages of judges.
Ancil Ramey of Charleston, representing Canterbury, advised Bloom on July 29 that neither rules of civil procedure nor trial court rules permit such a brief.
Even if rules allowed one, Ramey argued, The West Virginia Record can’t file one.
“There is no legal entity called The West Virginia Record,” Ramey wrote in a motion to strike the brief.
“It has no power to sue or be sued,” he wrote. “Rather, it is a publication of the Madison County Record, Inc., with a principal office of Edwardsville, Illinois.”
The West Virginia Record’s brief would support a freedom of information suit that the Associated Press news service filed against Canterbury.
The Associated Press seeks an order from Bloom that would require Canterbury to produce 13 e-mails of Chief Justice Spike Maynard.
Bloom ruled on June 25 that he would read the e-mails in his chambers and decide if the public should read them.
Bloom asked for further briefs by July 17. According to Ramey, both the Associated Press and The West Virginia Record missed the deadline.
The AP filed its brief July 21, and The West Virginia Record moved on July 24 to file its brief, Ramey wrote.
He challenged the logic of The Record’s brief along with its timeliness.
He argued that the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act defines public records as information relating to the conduct of the public’s business.
“An e-mail between a judge and another person regarding non-governmental or non-judicial matters simply does not relate to the conduct of the public’s business,” he wrote.
“If a judge receives an e-mail from his or her mother in conjunction with a surprise birthday party for the judge’s father,” he asked, “does The West Virginia Record seriously contend that such e-mail relates to the conduct of the public’s business simply because it is received while the judge is at work?”
Ramey practices at Steptoe and Johnson in Charleston. William Wilmoth of the same firm also represents Canterbury. So do Robert P. Fitzsimmons of Wheeling and Daniel Guida of Weirton.
Rudolph DiTrapano and Sean McGinley of DiTrapano, Barrett and DiPiero in Charleston represent the Associated Press.
Marc Williams of Huddleston Bolen in Huntington represents The West Virginia Record, along with Steven Pflaum and Joshua Herman of Chicago.