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Courts work session broke open meetings law
As members of the public arrived at last night’s work session on building new courts in Fredericksburg, they were told that no cell phones, cameras, laptops or recording devices of any kind were allowed in the courtroom. A Free Lance-Star photographer who attempted to photograph the meeting was told he could not bring his camera into the meeting.
City staff sent City Council members an e-mail last week warning them that no electronic items, including “cell phones, laptop computers and cameras,” would be allowed at the meeting. No similar warning was included in the public notice of the meeting.
This runs afoul of a recent amendment to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act that was crafted in response to a situation very similar to this.
HB1028, approved during last year’s General Assembly session, added the following language to the law (the portion underlined is what was added):
H. Any person may photograph, film, record or otherwise reproduce any portion of a meeting required to be open. The public body conducting the meeting may adopt rules governing the placement and use of equipment necessary for broadcasting, photographing, filming or recording a meeting to prevent interference with the proceedings.
The Northern Neck’s Del. Albert Pollard (D) and Sen. Richard Stuart (R) co-sponsored this bill after a similar situation came up in Westmoreland County.(I have not been able to find the Web version of this story, so I will send you here, where it was partially reproduced and discussed in a FredTalk forum.)
I have calls out to mayor and the city attorney, and I sent questions to Judge Gordon Willis earlier today.
I just received Willis’ response, through his secretary.
He said the court was asked to meet with the council members about plans for the new courthouse and that the court suggested the courthouse as a venue and the council members agreed. He said sheriff’s deputies were simply following the policies and procedures of the court and there was no intent to disregard the requirements of the open meetings law.
Read more about this in tomorrow’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.