Judge: FOIA suit against City of Norfolk can proceed

constitutionACLU of Virginia lawyers representing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) presented arguments today in their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the City of Norfolk. The ACLU of Virginia and PETA argued that, according to Virginia Law, the City must keep and make available to the public text messages of City officials conducting City business.

The lawsuit arises from several FOIA requests for text messages that PETA made to the City. In response to the requests, the City told PETA that it does not save text messages generated by City officials. The ACLU of Virginia and PETA argue that Virginia law (FOIA and the Virginia Public Records Act) requires the records to be preserved and made available upon request. The City asked the court to dismiss the case.

“As government officials increasingly rely on text messages to conduct public business, it is essential to make sure that they are not used to hide the government’s work from public view,” said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia. “Public records in any form must be made available so that voters can hold officials accountable for their actions.”

“Virginians should be able to see how their government is handling important issues, including those affecting animals in Norfolk,” said PETA’s General Counsel Jeff Kerr. “It should not take a lawsuit for the City to retain text messages effectively-as that’s a critical part of government transparency-but PETA’s case should help move the City’s public record keeping into the 21st century.”

Norfolk Circuit Court Judge John R. Doyle, III heard the arguments and denied the City’s request to dismiss the case.

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