Secrecy of Informal Ethics Opinions to Judges, Zaleski v. JIRC
Several years ago, Judge Charles D. Griffith, Jr. of the Norfolk Circuit Court was asked to recuse himself from a parole violation hearing because he had been Commonwealth’s Attorney at the time the defendant was originally tried and convicted. He refused, claiming that the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission (JIRC) had advised him that there was no need to recuse himself. Allan D. Zaleski, a Norfolk attorney, filed a request to JIRC under the Freedom of Information Act for the written record of the informal opinion to Judge Griffith. JIRC refused to produce it, citing a Virginia statute that makes “papers filed with and proceedings before” JIRC confidential. Zaleski sued. The Richmond Circuit Court ruled that JIRC’s informal opinions are neither “papers filed with” nor “proceedings before” JIRC, and ordered JIRC to produce the opinion. However, he stayed the ruling pending appeal. JIRC petitioned for appeal, and Zaleski asked us to represent him on the appeal. The case has been fully briefed, and we await a date for oral arguments. On October 24, 2005, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled against us, holding that the JIRC informal opinions were confidential.