Written by: Michael Phillips
March 20 Board of Supervisor Recording Ordered Released by Judge
STAUNTON, VIRGINIA – In a profound and precedent-setting victory for journalistic integrity and the principle of open governance, Breaking Through Media, LLC, together with journalist Samuel Joseph Orlando, triumphed in their tenacious legal confrontation against Augusta County and its Board of Supervisors member, Dr. Scott Seaton. The case, a litmus test for the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)'s efficacy, culminated in a judicial rebuke that underscored the county's cavalier attitude towards the law and the need for a stringent adherence to transparency.
Breaking Through's Legal Argument
Judge Thomas J. Wilson, IV's ruling was not merely a procedural victory but a moral one, affirming the relentless pursuit of accountability by Breaking Through Media. Amina Matheny-Willard, the legal architect behind this triumph, crafted a narrative in the courtroom that brought to light the county's lackadaisical approach to the statutes designed to keep its workings transparent and accountable to the public.
Court Adopts Breaking Through's Argument
In his meticulous dissection of the case, Judge Wilson adopted Matheny-Willard's stinging critique of the county's attitude toward legal mandates. The conclusion of the case resounded as a clarion call for law and order, with Matheny-Willard's words echoing through the halls of justice: "Augusta County, and for that matter its advocates, have demonstrated an insouciance to the law, its plain language, and the mandates that it imposes upon them."
Judge Rules Executive Sessions Not Legally Entered
The ruling pointedly criticized the county's persistent efforts to obscure its dealings from the very taxpayers who fund its operations. Matheny-Willard's argument painted a vivid picture of a governance structure that, instead of rectifying its errors, chose to double down on its opaque practices. "They have done this and continue to do the same to the disservice of the law and citizens in general," she argued, underscoring the gravity of the county's missteps.
Highlighting the paradox of a governing body using taxpayer dollars to shield its activities from those same taxpayers, Matheny-Willard's argument laid bare the irony and injustice of the situation. Her poignant words served as a reminder that the very essence of democracy hinges on transparency and accountability.
A Lesson in Doing the Right Thing
The court's decision to adopt Matheny-Willard's argument signifies a watershed moment in the fight for open governance. The conclusion of the case was not just a legal directive but a moral admonishment of Augusta County's governance. "Had the County realized its mistake and rectified its ways, there would be no need for the Court and concerned members of the public to disabuse it of its mistaken notions," Matheny-Willard asserted, pointing to the path not taken – a path of rectitude and transparency.
A Poignant Analogy to Butch Well's Comments
In a powerful paraphrase of a member of the Augusta County Board, Matheny-Willard encapsulated the essence of the ruling: "Those who disobey the law should be dealt with as children and should be grateful when they are taught a lesson; the Court should teach the County’s Board of Supervisors their lesson today and they should be grateful for that education and take it to heart." This poignant analogy not only highlighted the paternalistic role of the judiciary in upholding the law but also the inherent duty of elected officials to adhere to the statutes they are sworn to uphold.
A Testament to the Power of Journalism and Law
As the dust settles on this landmark legal battle, the victory of Breaking Through Media stands as a beacon of hope and a stern reminder to all governing bodies. The judgment serves as a testament to the indomitable spirit of journalism and the unwavering resolve of those who seek to shine a light in the darkest recesses of governance. The citizens of Augusta County, and indeed observers across the nation, can take solace in the knowledge that the law, when earnestly pursued, remains a formidable bulwark against the shadows of secrecy.