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Virginia Supreme Court overturns blackout, opens public access to audio recordings of oral arguments

Members of the Virginia Supreme Court have a New Year’s Resolution — become more transparent.

Starting this year, members of the public will finally have access to audio recordings of oral arguments. The recordings were once public, but installation of new recording equipment in January 2008 changed that. As the Alexandria Gazette Packet first reported last summer, justices instituted the blackout policy because they were concerned their sidebar conversations between justices might be audible.

"That was a lame excuse," said Del. Dave Albo (R-42). "I'm glad they decided to change this without the General Assembly passing legislation to make it happen."

As it turns out, legislation was already in the works. Prompted in part by the Gazette Packet's report, Wise County Clerk of Court Jack Kennedy approached Del. Terry Kilgore (R-1) about introducing legislation requiring the court to release audio recording of oral arguments. Draft language for House Bill 1018 said audio records of Supreme Court oral arguments "shall be made publicly available in electronic format without fee within a reasonable time after oral arguments take place."

"I'm a Democrat and he's a Republican," said Kennedy, who lives in Kilgore's district. "But transparency should not be a partisan issue."

Read the full story here.

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