- Associated Press - Thursday, June 29, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Virginia newspaper on Thursday lost a bid to compel the release of court records that would shed light on criminal defendants and cases across the state.

The Daily Press filed a lawsuit to get access to a database from the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia that the newspaper says would provide information such as the names and races of defendants.

Virginia’s highest court upheld a lower court ruling denying the newspaper’s request. The justices said the General Assembly has designated the court clerks as the “custodians” of court records, so the newspaper has to get the information from the individual clerks.

Marisa Porto, publisher and editor-in-chief for the Daily Press Media Group, said in a statement that she is “baffled” by the decision and believes the issue needs to be addressed by the General Assembly.

“This ruling is a blow to citizens who are being denied the opportunity to better understand how its justice system treats Virginians,” she said.

Hunter Sims, an attorney for the Daily Press, said he will confer with the newspaper to consider possible next steps.

The newspaper was able to get a portion of the database through publicly available records from 2014 and found , among other things, that a larger percentage of white defendants had probation violation charges dismissed or dropped in circuit court than black defendants.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said she’s disappointed by the ruling but is pleased the court didn’t go any further. She noted that the justices declined to address the question of whether the court clerks are exempt from the state’s public records law.

The justices said in their ruling that the clerks have suggested the state’s Freedom of Information Act may not apply to them- “at least with certain kinds of public court records.”

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