Freedom of Information Act Requests
Rights & Responsibilities
The Rights of Requesters and the Responsibilities of the Clerk's Office under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by the public bodies, public officials, and public employees. FIOA provides that, with some specific exemptions, all meetings of public bodies shall be open to the public and all public records open for public inspection. All public meetings and records are presumed open unless an exemption is properly invoked.
The Clerk's Office complies with the Virginia Freedom Information Act. There is no separate county policy that addresses FIOA.
A public record is any writing or recording - regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format - that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
Your FOIA Rights
- You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
- You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
- If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in a district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, you may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.
Making a Request for Records From the Clerk's Office
You may request records by U.S mail, Fax, email, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA. However, you must provide your name and legal address. It is recommended that prior to submitting a FOIA request for records you should review the remainder of the Clerk's Office's website and use the site's search function. In many instances, the requester may find the information or records that he or she is looking for online.
Regardless of how you choose to submit your request it is helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, we cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect not to put it in writing.
Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead it requires that you be specific enough so that the Clerk's Office can identify and locate the records you are requesting.
Your request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you the right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of the Clerk's Office, nor does it require the Clerk's Office to create a record that does not exist.
If the Clerk's Office has questions about your request, please cooperate with the staff's efforts to clarify the type of records that you are seeking, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but the Clerk's Office may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.
To request records from the Clerk's Office, you may direct your request to Jennifer Ashworth via email, Clerk of the Circuit Court. She can be reached by mail at: 3160 Kings Mountain Road Suite B, Martinsville, VA 24112, or by phone at 276-634-4880. You may also contact her with questions concerning requesting records from the Clerk's Office. In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by email, or by phone at 804-225-3056 or toll free 1-866-448-410
The Clerk's Office Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request
The Clerk's Office will respond to you request within five working days of receiving it. "Day One" is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
The reason behind you request for public records from the Clerk's Office is irrelevant, and you do not have to state why you want the records before responding to your request.
FOIA requires that the Clerk's Office will make one of the following responses to you request within the five-day period:
- Provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
- Withhold all of the records that you have requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, the Clerk's Office will send you a response identifying the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.
- Provide some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. The Clerk's Office cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and will provide you with the remainder of the record. The Clerk's Office will provide you with a response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
- Inform you in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist ( we do not have the records you want) However, if we know that another public body has the requested records, the Clerk's Office will include contact information for the other public body in our response to you.
- If it is not practical for the Clerk's Office to respond to your request within the five-day period, we will notify you and explain the conditions that make the response not practical. This will allow seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
If you make a request for a very large number of records, and the records cannot be provided to you within 12 working days without disrupting other organizational responsibilities, the Clerk's Office may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, the Clerk's Office will make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production of the records before we go to court to ask for more time.
A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia.
You may have to pay for the records that you request from the Clerk's Office. FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items such as staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It will not include general overhead costs.
If the cost is expected to exceed $200, the Clerk's Office may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five days that we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond.
You may request that the Clerk's Office estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about any costs upfront, or give you the opportunity to modify you request in attempt to lower the estimated costs.
If you owe the Clerk's Office money from a precious FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, the Clerk's Office may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to your new FOIA request.
Commonly Used Exemptions
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. The Clerk's Office commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
- Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) if the Code of Virginia)
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.1 (3))
- Vendor proprietary information (§ 2.2-3705.1 (6))
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.1 (12))