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SPJ Legal Defense Fund supports student paper's open records lawsuit


For Immediate Release:

Dave Aeikens, SPJ President, (320) 255-8744, daeikens@stcloud.gannett.com
Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 x. 215, kgrabowski@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has granted Virginia Tech’s student-run newspaper, the Collegiate Times, $1,000 from its Legal Defense Fund to help with the cost of an open records lawsuit the paper filed in West Virginia.

On May 19, The Collegiate Times sued the West Virginia State Police to obtain records related to a 10-year-old disappearance of a Virginia Tech student. The state police denied the paper’s two FOIA requests for access citing an exemption in West Virginia’s open records law. The exemption states that police records will remain closed when they are part of an ongoing investigation where disclosure could hurt the investigation. The Collegiate Times does not believe the specific records they requested can hurt any ongoing proceedings, and further argues that it believes with the requested documents, the paper’s report could help the investigation.

The paper’s editorial adviser, Kelly Furnas, told The Roanoke Times June 12 that The Collegiate Times is “seeking full or partial access to the records as they do not believe every word of every document could possibly be detrimental the investigation … (and with) access to police records, (they) truly hope (they) can provide their readers a much clearer picture of what may or may not have happened.”

“This is an important case about public information,” SPJ President Dave Aeikens said. “The school paper has a reasonable request that should be honored. We hope that by putting Legal Defense Fund dollars behind it, the paper will get the information it seeks to make public.”

The SPJ Legal Defense Fund is used to aid journalists in defending the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Grant money can be used to initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings. For more information about the SPJ Legal Defense Fund, or to make a donation, visit www.spj.org/ldf.asp.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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