State lawmaker sues Cuccinelli over the cost of information

Posted at 3:33 PM, Sep 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-24 16:38:18-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – State Sen. Donald McEachin (D – Henrico) wants Virginia Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli to hand over emails related to Cuccinelli’s connection to Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

On Tuesday, McEachin announced he’d sued Cuccinelli for the emails after he was told it would cost more than $14,000 to fulfill his Freedom of Information Act request.

“What we’re talking about here is an issue of transparency,” McEachin said during a press conference. “What did the attorney general know? When did he know it? When did he start meeting with Star Scientific? When did he start meeting with Johnnie Williams? I think the people of Virginia are entitled to know.”

McEachin was miffed over the $14,000 bill and claimed the Attorney General’s campaign for governor received the same information — for free.

“I don’t see a payment from the Cuccinelli campaign to the Attorney General’s Office in response to a FOIA request. So why should his campaign get it for free and the rest of us have to pay for it,” McEachin asked.

The Attorney General’s office refutes McEachin’s belief that the AGs office gave information to the campaign.

The Attorney General’s office also says McEachin refused to meet with them to discuss the issue after already offering to hand over all previously released FOIA documents.

A spokesman for Office of the Attorney General said the large bill had to do with the size of  McEachin’s request.

“The senator has asked for every attorney and every staffer in the attorney general’s office – more than 400 state employees – to drop what they’re doing and search for documents for him. Recognizing the disruption that such a request entails, the law allows the office to require a requester to pay some of the costs of the search before the search is begun. Mr. McEachin has refused to comply with the statute and advance a portion of those costs,” Director of Communication for the Office of Attorney General Brian Gottstein said in a statement. “Because of the enormity of the request, the office calculated the time that staff would spend fulfilling it and requested just under $15,000 to begin the search.”

Gottstein said the AG’s office offered to work with McEachin to narrow the search, thus lowering the cost.

“So far, he has refused to work with us on his request. If instead he wants to pursue his original request, if he will comply with the statute and pay some of the costs of the search before the search is begun, we are happy to conduct the search despite the disruption to the business of the office,” Gottstein’s statement continued.

At Tuesday morning’s press conference, CBS 6 political reporter Joe St. George asked Sen. McEachin about criticism over whether the lawsuit was simply a political stunt a few weeks before Virginia’s gubernatorial election.

“I think that’s a fair criticism, but I think the more important question is to Ken Cuccinelli is ‘why haven’t you produced this information? Why hasn’t your office produced this information?’ You could silence all the partisan rhetoric that you’re afraid of if you just gave up the information,” Sen. McEachin replied.