"The Freedom of Information Act and the Public Records Act are meant to ensure that Virginians have detailed knowledge of government activity so that they may hold their elected officials accountable," said ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg. "As more and more public business is conducted by text message, it is essential that citizens have access to these vital public records. Text messages must not become a loophole by which government officials can do business in secret."
The case arises from public records requests that PETA made for Norfolk officials' communications, including text messages, which pertain to public business. The City's response stated that it does not preserve the text messages of public officials, and the City failed to provide PETA with the requested public records. In multiple letters to the City, PETA and the ACLU of Virginia explained that preservation of text messages is required by Virginia law, and that easily obtainable technology exists to do so. Nonetheless, the City has persisted in its refusal to implement a system to save text messages and make them available to the public.
"PETA hopes to see the City of Norfolk swiftly implement basic policies and procedures to comply with the Commonwealth's public records requirements," said PETA's General Counsel Jeff Kerr. "Citizens have a right to expect access to public records and communications to and from government officials whose decisions have an impact on animal welfare and safety."
The lawsuit requests the court to order the City to provide all text messages responsive to PETA's requests and to implement a system to preserve text messages sent and received in the course of public business and make them available to the public.
The suit was filed in Norfolk Circuit Court under the title People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. v. City of Norfolk. PETA is represented by Glenberg and ACLU of Virginia staff attorney Hope Amezquita.View a copy of the complaint.