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Former AG Terry sues Patrick County School officials over FOIA
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
A former attorney general filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging Patrick County School officials violated the Freedom of Information Act.
The five-page suit, filed in Patrick County Circuit Court by former attorney general Mary Sue Terry, of Critz, alleges that the school division's custodian of records, Dean Gilbert and schools Superintendent Roger Morris failed to comply with or their responses were contradictory to several requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Terry filed a total of 10 FOIA requests between July 19 and Aug. 17 for various information, including certain credit card purchases, supporting documentation, salaries, leases and rentals, and travel vouchers. Terry’s FOIA requests are posted in their entirety on the school division’s website at www.patrick.k12.va.us/index.cfm/topic/743.
Some of the 10 FOIA requests were specified in the suit.
With one of the requests, Morris provided information about credit card charges for a gathering at Primland. The suit claimed his response was “contradictory and non-compliant.”
Earlier this year, the Virginia State Police investigated that incident, which included the use of Stuart Elementary School’s credit card. Shortly after the investigation, Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman issued a statement that no criminal wrongdoing was found.
On another request, the suit claims Gilbert responded in part to an FOIA request for copies of all credit card bills throughout the school division “from July 1, 2011, to the present ... together with the code or codes of the budget out of which payments were made.”
An electronic response to Terry from D. Patrick Lacy Jr., a Richmond attorney representing the school division, stated that an estimated $450 cost would be incurred to search for and compile the records requested. He replied that the FOIA request would be held until after the school division received the check from Terry. Also, the “school system is still awaiting you (sic) payment of $45 for complying with your previous request,” he added.
The suit, which also includes other allegations, claims Terry did not receive a response from the school division within the allotted time frame, and she is asking the court to determine there were multiple FOIA violations by the school division.
The suit asks the court to issue an order compelling the school division to produce “all documents” Terry requested, and exclude Morris from the process due to alleged “potential conflict of interest.”
The court also is asked to find that the alleged FOIA violations were willful and order the school division to pay reasonable costs and attorney’s fees for allegedly failing to comply.
School board Chairman Bobby Mangrum declined to comment on the suit.
An original copy of Terry's suit included the Patrick County School Board but it was dropped from the final document, according to court records.