Refer to this case as the State of West Virginia vs. the Law of Holes.
That is, the state Supreme Court of Appeals versus the very first rule of crisis management: When you’re in a hole, stop digging.
Last week, the high court issued a memo to the House Judiciary Committee denying media access during the panel’s planned tour of the court’s offices.
The court’s memo also noted that no photography or video would be allowed during the tour. Period.
If the committee later determined video or pictures were necessary, the panel’s chairman was to contact the court’s administrator.
Thanks to the West Virginia Broadcasters Association, the West Virginia Press Association and one undaunted legislator, that tour was delayed until media can attend.
That lawmaker, Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, who motioned to delay the tour, argued that this exclusion represented a violation of the state’s open meetings law.
Though a possible violation of that law remained uncertain, he was soon joined by 22 of the Judiciary Committee’s other 24 members, who voted to hold off on the tour.
The committee is now trying to make arrangements with the court to allow for potential pool reporting, where several reporters would provide coverage for all.
Courts will probably always be reluctant to allow for a score of reporters with cameras, microphones and recorders to swarm through their offices. That’s in addition to 25 members of the House Judiciary Committee and its staff touring the high court inner sanctum.
However, two tours were initially scheduled for the committee’s members, which would include media covering the impeachment hearings.
Yet the court, rather than allowing for a spirit of openness shoveled up another controversy instead.
It’s obvious to everyone that these historic impeachment proceedings are of significant public interest.
Furthermore, it’s fundamental to know what this committee’s member say during this tour and all other aspects of these proceedings.
Far be it from us to advise the state’s top jurists on how best to defend themselves, but this action smacks of privilege, secrecy and disrespect for the public’s right to know.
After all, it is the public that paid for the nearly
$3.7 million in renovations in the court’s offices, which were originally estimated to cost about $900,000.
We understand this court, like all courts, operates with a sense of decorum. or order, which often includes banning cameras. However, these extraordinary proceedings and their possible outcome call for exceptions in this instance.
It’s in this court’s best interest to fully cooperate and put the public’s best interest before its own.
Otherwise, that hole is only going to get even deeper.