Rights & Responsibilities:
The Rights of Requesters and the Responsibilities of this 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 public bodies, public officials, and public employees.
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.
The policy of FOIA states that the purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
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 district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.
Questions About FOIA?
The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, a state agency, is an office with the expertise to help resolve disputes over Freedom of Information issues. The FOIA Council answers questions from private citizens, state and local public officials, and the media about access to public records and meetings.
The Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted at: http://foiacouncil.dls.virginia.gov
Making a Request for Records from the Russell County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office (RCCA)
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.
It would be 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. And it facilitates contact with you if questions or further communications about your request are needed. However, we cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect to not put it in writing.
Your request must identify the records you are seeking with “reasonable specificity.” This is a common-sense standard. 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 we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking. Please note that broad requests are more likely to require that substantial, actual costs be incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(F) & (H).
Your request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of RCCA, nor does it require RCCA to create a record that does not exist.
You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by RCCA in the regular course of business.
For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel spreadsheet, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via email, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with 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 we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.
To request records for which RCCA is the custodian, you may direct your request to Brian K. Patton. He can be reached at:
Russell County Commonwealth’s Attorney
ATTN: FOIA – Brian K. Patton
P.O. Box 2110
Lebanon, Virginia 24266
You may also contact him with questions you have concerning requesting records from RCCA.
As stated above under the section “Questions About FOIA?,” the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted at http://foiacouncil.dls.virginia.gov
RCCA’s Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request
- RCCA must respond to your 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 your request for public records from RCCA is irrelevant, and we cannot ask you why you want the records before we respond to your request. FOIA does, however, allow us to require you to provide your name and legal address.
FOIA requires that RCCA make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period (see Va. Code § 2.2-3704(B)):
We provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
- We 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, we must send you a response in writing. That writing must identify 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.
- We provide some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. Depending on the circumstances, we may redact part of a record that may be withheld and provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows some or all of the requested records to be withheld.
- The requested records could not be found or do not exist. If we know that another agency has the requested records, our response will include contact information for that agency.
If it is not practically possible for RCCA to respond to your request within the five-day period, we must state this in writing, explaining why. This will allow us seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
- If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within 12 days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, we will make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production or the records before we go to court to ask for more time.
- You may have to pay for the records that you request from RCCA. FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(F).
- If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we 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. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(H).
- You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about estimated costs upfront, or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(F).
- If you owe us money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, RCCA may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to your new FOIA request. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(I).