PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A judge ruled Monday that Portsmouth City Council violated the Freedom of Information Act when they fined fellow Councilman Bill Moody.
“I don’t view it as a personal victory more so than a victory for citizens who like open government and transparency,” Moody told 10 On Your Side.
Moody filed a lawsuit in April, claiming the city overstepped its bounds when it fined him $1,500 for violating a city amendment by speaking publicly about closed meeting information in a post on Facebook. The lawsuit alleges that Moody did not reveal anything confidential in the December Facebook post.
Council sent Moody a letter that said he would be fined for the Facebook post. The letter began, “It is with regret… we have decided to take action to discipline.”
The judge says that the decision to sign and deliver the letter to Moody required a vote in an open council meeting.
“The fact that they offered to wait seven days before doing more does not change the fact they decided to take action to discipline Moody,” the judge says in a court document. “When they communicated their decision in an official letter signed by five out of seven members, and did not call for a vote in an open session, they violated the Freedom of Information Act.”
The Freedom of Information Act requires that every public body, including a city council, “take action” at an open meeting by voting in public.
David Corrigan, an attorney representing Mayor Kenny Wright and councilmen Mark Whitaker, Curtis Edmonds and Paige Cherry, had no comment on Monday. He would not indicate whether or not he intends to appeal the ruling.
10 On Your Side went to the offices of Mayor Wright and the city attorney on Monday. Neither were available.
10 On Your Side reached out to councilmen Whitaker, Edmonds, Cherry and Danny Meeks, requesting comment and clarification as to whether taxpayers are footing the bill for all legal fees. We received no comment.
Vice Mayor Elizabeth Psimas did not vote to fine Moody.
Moody said the case isn’t over, as he argues that the fine itself is a violation of free speech.
He hasn’t gotten his money back.
“Our suit, complaint, is based on principals. We felt that that’s the important thing. And hopefully, going forward, this will be a healing opportunity for council and we can get back to doing the work of the people.”