No basis for Virginia Supreme Court to withhold records, state council says

Statewide court records maintained by the Supreme Court of Virginia should be publicly available in compiled form, according to an opinion issued by the state's Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

The Supreme Court's Office of the Executive Secretary refused to release compiled court records to the Daily Press and instead required case-by-case requests. The Daily Press has been pushing for access to the entire database for nearly a year, arguing that the information is a public record with critical information about how well and fairly the state's courts work.

After being denied the data repeatedly, the Daily Press worked with the Hampton Roads chapter of Code For America — a nonprofit group that works with governments to make their records more accessible to the public — to compile 110,000 individual cases over a one-year span using the Office of the Executive Secretary's website. Using this database, the newspaper found that black Virginians appear to be less likely than whites to negotiate reduced charges in plea bargains, and are more likely to face stiffer penalties when they violate probation. Continue>>>