FOIA suit filed against Charlottesville

A pair of activists and a journalist have filed suit against the City of Charlottesville seeking the release of documents they claim should be made available through the Freedom of Information Act. 

Attorney Jeff Fogel filed a petition Thursday in Charlottesville Circuit Court on behalf of Tanesha Hudson, Cherry Hanley of the People’s Coalition, and Dave McNair of The DTM who submitted two separate requests for information. One was on March 24, 2022. (read the petition)

“For the years 2020 and 2021, all records concerning the settlement of claims of police misconduct, or other violation of constitutional rights, by the city or any of its employees, whether or not the claim was filed in an administrative or judicial agency.” 

A second request was submitted on April 4 which among other items sought the release of “all records concerning the settlement of claims of police misconduct.” 

The petition includes two exhibits of the results, which contain many redactions. Fogel argues that not all of the information was privileged under state law and that five settlement documents should have been made available as part of the FOIA request. 

“The above violations of the FOIA Act by Defendant, City of Charlottesville, deprives not only petitioners, but every citizen of the community and other interested persons, the rights granted to them under the provisions of the FOIA Act,” reads paragraph 27 of the petition. 

Read the petition here.

Paragraph 28 argues that the city’s policy of requiring non-disparagement clauses or non-disclosure agreements as part of settlement agreements is a violation of a person’s First Amendment rights. The petition seeks an opinion on that interpretation. 

According to the petition, Hudson settled a First Amendment claim with the city in August 2020 that required her to enter into a nondisclosure agreement.

Exhibit A includes redacted correspondence between lawyers hired by both the city and former City Manager Tarron Richardson. Richardson filed suit last year in federal court alleging that the city violated the terms of a nondisparagement clause related to his departure from the city in September 2020. He withdrew from the case in a filing of voluntary dismissal on March 8. (read Exhibit A) (read Exhibit B)

“The [Virginia Risk Sharing Association], as the City’s insurer, has the authority to settle a case,” wrote city attorney Lisa Robertson in a March 9 email to former Mayor Nikuyah Walker. “The VSRA attorney appointed to represent City Council dealt with Dr. Richardson’s attorney. No city funds are being paid out.”

Walker had wanted more information on how the suit came to be dismissed. The former mayor had been named as a party in Richardson’s case, as had a former city attorney.

“Virginia Risk Sharing Association did not assign an attorney to you, John Blair, or [former City Councilor] Heather Hill because Dr. Richardson never served any of you with process,” Robertson wrote. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the April 29, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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