CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WBOY) — The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is suing Gov. Jim Justice’s (R) Office over the release of his official schedules and calendars.
Justice has announced that he is running for Democrat Joe Manchin’s seat in the United States Senate. Manchin has not yet announced if he plans to run for re-election, but analysts consider Justice to be the top contender to face off against Manchin, if the senator were to run as an incumbent.
The DSCC lawsuit comes after it says it filed two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records requests for Justice’s schedules, but says Justice’s general counsel, J. Berkeley Bentley, told the DSCC none of the schedules were maintained “solely for official business,”
The DSCC said in a press release that Justice last produced such records in 2019, and they showed “that Governor Justice ‘almost never meets with his Cabinet, is rarely at the capital and was largely missing at one of the most critical points of [the] year’s legislative session.'”
“Jim Justice cannot hide his work schedule—or lack thereof—from West Virginians, and this is an area which is sure to receive further scrutiny in his nasty primary and in a court of law,” DSCC Spokesperson David Bergstein said.
The DSCC was trying to receive all scheduled official meetings involving Justice, his chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and Bentley from January 2017 to the present.
Bentley’s response to the DSCC’s FOIA request, which was included as evidence with the DSCC’s lawsuit, says, in part:
We have completed our search for and review of the public records in our custody that are responsive to your request. Your request is denied to the extent it seeks records exempt from disclosure under West Virginia Code § 29B-1-4(a)(2) and (8). Any calendar or notes which may contain information relating to official meetings of the Governor or senior staff mentioned above are only in draft format, contain appointments that may or may not occur, are revised daily, are never corrected, and are not an accurate log of such meetings […] Further, any such calendars or notes are maintained exclusively for the personal convenience of those staff members to coordinate both personal and business appointments are neither under the Office of the Governor’s control nor integrated into the Office of the Governor’s files.
The sections of West Virginia State Code that Bentley cited state:
(a) There is a presumption of public accessibility to all public records, subject only to the following categories of information which are specifically exempt from disclosure under this article:
(2) Information of a personal nature such as that kept in a personal, medical, or similar file, if the public disclosure of the information would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy, unless the public interest by clear and convincing evidence requires disclosure in this particular instance: Provided, That this article does not preclude an individual from inspecting or copying his or her own personal, medical, or similar file;
(8) Internal memoranda or letters received or prepared by any public body;West Virginia Code § 29B-1-4(a)(2) and (8)
The DSCC is arguing in its lawsuit that the scheduled official meetings “would not involve disclosing personal information at all, so such records are not exempt from disclosure under § 29B-1-4(a)(2).”
It also argues in the suit that in order for the calendars to be considered “internal memoranda” they must be “‘both predecisional and deliberative’ in ‘the context in which the materials are used,'” which it says does not apply to the official scheduled meetings.
The DSCC also pointed to the fact that exempted information is required to be redacted under West Virginia state law in its suit. Click here to read it.
12 News has reached out to Gov. Justice’s office for a statement about the lawsuit but has not yet heard back.