Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says he will no longer routinely advance the contention that his office is not subject to the state Freedom of Information Act.
Cuccinelli had included a disclaimer in recent FOIA responses stating that a 2011 Supreme Court of Virginia opinion could be interpreted to exclude his office from the public records law. A spokesperson confirmed to two newspapers the AG’s position that the FOIA did not apply to him.
The same spokesperson provided a somewhat different response from Cuccinelli Monday evening:
“I have always instructed my staff to fully abide by FOIA. Several staff members are assigned to work on FOIA requests, we have always complied with all FOIA requests and we will continue to respond to every one of the hundreds of requests we get each year,” Cuccinelli said.
“The attorneys who work on FOIA requests were diligently attempting to preserve any potential legal arguments this office may have based on a 2011 Supreme Court case. However, I have instructed my staff to remove the recently inserted footnote referencing Christian v. SCC because it has created confusion and it does not comport with the office’s practice of fully complying with FOIA,” Cuccinelli’s statement read.
Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, welcomed Cuccinelli’s less strident approach.
“Taking the offending footnote out of future letters is certainly a step in the right direction,” Rhyne said in an email. “A better step would have been for the Attorney General to distance himself from the footnote altogether by confirming that his office is now and has always been subject to Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act,” Rhyne said.
Waldo Jaquith, an open government advocate who received one of the “footnoted” letters, also praised the change in stance.
“While I do wish that the attorney general had confirmed that his office is legally obliged to comply with FOIA, I’m happy to see that he’s taken a big step in the right direction. Ken Cuccinelli deserves credit for correcting his mistake promptly and transparently,” Jaquith said in an email.