CHARLESTON – Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom will read e-mails from the offices of Chief Justice Spike Maynard and decide if the rest of the world can read them.
At a hearing June 25, Bloom told State Court Administrator Steve Canterbury to seal e-mails The Associated Press news service has requested and submit them for his review.
He gave Canterbury 10 days to deliver them along with a privilege log explaining why Bloom should keep each one confidential.
The Associated Press will receive a copy of the privilege log.
Canterbury has produced most e-mails that AP requested, but he blacked out portions of those to and from Maynard's administrative assistant and law clerks.
Bloom announced his order after AP counsel Pat McGinley of Charleston questioned Canterbury for more than an hour.
McGinley asked what the focus of the request was. Canterbury said it related to pictures that surfaced of a trip to France.
He said he blacked out personal communications, adding that he didn't want anyone to misconstrue that the blackouts related to France.
McGinley asked his understanding of public interest. Canterbury said, "The public is an amorphous term. AP's interest was in finding out about the trip."
McGinley persisted and Canterbury said it would set a dangerous precedent if any party could get e-mail of an elected jurist.
McGinley asked if the Freedom of Information Act entitles parties to full and complete information. Canterbury said they can't see personnel files and medical records.
"There are limits," Canterbury said. "Judges have to have a certain privilege in matters before them."
McGinley asked if he understood that the AP didn't seek discussions of pending cases. Canterbury said he understood.
McGinley asked if he understood that the AP didn't seek internal decision making processes. Canterbury said, "I understand that now. I didn't understand it then."
Bloom asked if there was no dispute on phone records. Everyone nodded no.
He asked if there was no dispute on e-mails between clerks. Everyone nodded no.
He asked if the only issue before him was e-mails between people in Maynard's offices and people in offices of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.
McGinley said, "Well," and a couple more words, but Bloom stopped him.
"No, I want you to answer my question," Bloom said. "It has been an hour and a half and I'm still not clear."
He asked if McGinley sought e-mails from law clerks to Massey. McGinley said yes.
Bloom asked if that was the extent of it. McGinley said, "And administrative assistant."
Bloom asked for e-mails under seal and a privilege log.
He gave both sides 20 days to file further briefs.