The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 12, 2013

Prosecutor says handling of WVU FOIA requests OK

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MORGANTOWN — It wasn’t until about a week ago that I found for certain who is responsible to make sure that the Freedom of Information of Act law is enforced in West Virginia.

You may remember that in February 2013 The Dominion Post of Morgantown filed a grand total of 33 FOIA requests against West Virginia University.

Under normal circumstances, it had five days to provide the newspaper’s requested information that is sought.

But it took about two months for the newspaper to start getting information.

Since this occurred in Morgantown, it was the Monongalia County Prosecuting Attorney Marcia Ashdown’s responsibility to make sure the provisions of the FOIA were upheld.

There were those, including this writer, that suspected WVU was “stonewalling” in these requests — all 33, a total that could be one-shot of a national record.

However, Prosecutor Ashdown did not see it that way. “It’s not just a question-and-answer format,” she said. “It may just be what is considered public records and the Freedom of Information Act allows more time (than just five days) for full compliance.

“In this instance, the person making the request is asking for a large volume of information that the possessor of the information or documents would say ‘I cannot give you the entire volume immediately, but I can if given time.”

The prosecuting attorney added that this appeared to her to be the situation, “and I would not consider it a potential violation of the FOIA law.”

In the meantime, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey stated through a spokeswoman Beth Ryan that according to the state code, he has no authority in the enforcement of the FOIA. It is up to the prosecutor in the county in which a request was filed.

“If the records sought are located in Monongalia County, then it is up to the prosecutor to make sure those FOIA requests are enforced,” the attorney general spokeswoman said.

She explained that Morrisey represented WVU as a client in media rights and athletic sponsorships and other matters recently, because under the state code it is a state agency and his responsibility among others.

His office, under state law, can represent any other state agency, including Marshall, other state colleges and state-run offices in West Virginia. The attorney general noted in his statement.

In his public report after his investigation, Morrisey cited some “improprieties” by WVU athletic director Oliver Luck, among others, and recommended that the university go through a new rebidding process for media rights.

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