Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Accidental Shredder?

Here is a quick update on the West Virginia shredding incident I mentioned in another post. For what it is worth, this seems to be the statute that would apply, if the allegedly shredded documents were, in fact, "public records."

W. Va. Code, § 29B-1-6, Code of West Virginia, Chapter 29B. Freedom of Information, § 29B-1-6. Violation of article; Penalties

Any custodian of any public records who willfully violates the provisions of this article is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than two hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars, or be imprisoned in the county jail for not more than twenty days, or, in the discretion of the court, by both fine and imprisonment.

So, as near as I can tell, mistakenly shredding the documents is not a criminal problem, even if they were not the Coach's to destroy. If he knew they weren't his documents, then destroying them would be a willful violation. But an accidental violation is not covered here. Thanks, Professor Force! Now, if CoachRod had to explain how a document that was clearly the University’s (and not his) got into a shredder accidentally, well, that still could be a problem. But not necessarily that much of one. Expressly exempted from the West Virginia public records statute, the likely source of potential liability, are: “internal memoranda or letters received or prepared by any public body.”

It seems to me that unless the coach and his cohorts went crazy there is little liability potential here, at least under the open-records laws. Especially given that the state is not known for complying with its own open-records laws anyway. CoachRod says all the allegations are lies. So really, it's just that $4.0 million breach of contract issue, which he is making a federal case, that he needs to handle. That sure is a lot of money, isn't it?

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