Judge Recuses Himself from Breaking Through Media's FOIA Lawsuit Against Augusta County
Written by: Sam Orlando
STAUNTON, VIRGINIA – In an interesting development within the Circuit Court of the County of Augusta, Judge Shannon T. Sherrill has officially recused himself from a lawsuit brought forth by Breaking Through Media, LLC, against Augusta County and its Board of Supervisors member, Dr. Scott Seaton.
The lawsuit, which seeks to uphold the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), alleges that the County has failed to provide public records related to executive session meetings. Breaking Through Media asserts that the denial of these records undermines the principles of transparency mandated by FOIA.
In an official letter dated November 2, 2023, addressed to the Chief Judge Joel R. Branscom of the Botetourt County Circuit Court, Judicial Assistant Heather H. Griffin conveyed Judge Sherrill's inability to hear the case. The recusal order, endorsed by Judge Sherrill, disqualifies him from any further proceedings in this matter.
The letter informs Judge Branscom that the parties involved will be contacted by his office regarding the designation of a new judge to oversee the case. This development adds another layer to the unfolding legal battle over access to government transparency in Augusta County.
The legal team representing Breaking Through Media is led by attorney Amina Matheny-Willard, who has been actively pursuing this case in the interests of public knowledge and accountability. The lawsuit itself reflects a growing concern over governmental bodies adhering to the laws designed to ensure public access to official records and proceedings.
Breaking Through News previously took legal action asserting that the records pertaining to the executive sessions were incorrectly classified to avoid public disclosure. Among the contentious issues is the supposed discussion of a board member's resignation in a closed session, which should have been conducted in public according to FOIA guidelines.
Dr. Seaton's caution against releasing certain recordings without a court order, citing potential obstruction of a criminal investigation, highlights the complexities involved in the case. The specific reference to the animal shelter scandal within his correspondence to federal authorities suggests deeper layers of controversy.
The court order directing the reassignment of the case follows standard procedure when a judge recuses themselves to maintain impartiality and the integrity of the judicial process. The order also directs that a certified copy be sent to the parties involved, including counsel for the plaintiff and the defendants, Augusta County, and Dr. Seaton.
The citizens of Augusta County are closely watching as this legal action continues to unfold, bringing attention to the importance of government transparency and the enforcement of laws that support open governance.
Breaking Through News remains committed to providing updates and in-depth coverage as they strive to keep the public informed and government entities accountable.
As the case is reassigned, the community awaits further developments in what has become a pivotal moment for FOIA advocacy in Virginia.