A nonprofit filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Justice on Tuesday morning, alleging the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of West Virginia is not complying with open records law.
The lawsuit alleges the U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart’s office has not produced records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which sought information on radio ads where Stuart warned against ongoing criminal justice reforms.
Stuart ran a minute-long radio advertisement on WV MetroNews in March, in which he said “ … our streets are safer today than at any time in the recent past … but bail reform and other social justice initiatives threaten to reverse course. Revolving doors from arrests to the street only embolden criminal activity,” according to the suit.
“There’s only one way to kill a snake; you gotta take the head completely off. We’ve wounded the snake, now it’s time to finish the job,” Stuart says in the ad. “This is no time to go soft on crime.”
The ad was aired during the same time state lawmakers were debating various criminal justice reform bills, including bail and parole reforms, according to the suit.
“Mr. Stuart’s office also put out a press release touting its ‘Public Service Announcements,’ which includes a transcript of a different ad than cited above, stating that the PSAs would start airing on February 17, 2020,” the lawsuit reads.
Americans for Prosperity filed the FOIA on April 1 seeking information on the source of funding for the ads, the total costs, all records reflecting the decision to run these ads and any communications between Stuart’s office and employees of the West Virginia Legislature or Governor’s Office, among other information requests.
Now more than three months later, Stuart’s office has not returned any records sought by the request, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
“Failure to produce records when requested runs counter to an open and transparent government, which is essential for protecting and upholding our constitutional rights,” Americans for Prosperity state director Jason Huffman said in a statement. “In this instance, we are seeking to learn more about the decision of an unelected federal bureaucrat to spend taxpayer money advocating against state-level policy decisions … It is imperative that the government provides citizens their rightful access to this information so they can see how their tax dollars are being spent.”
The FOIA request was filed more than three months ago by Americans For Prosperity, according to the suit, and no information has been returned.