Sunrise over V.A. Capitol.
VIRGINIA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ADVISORY COUNCIL
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA


AO-15-00

December 12, 2000

Reverend Dianne Dietz
Burlington, NC

The staff of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your e-mail of November 14, 2000.

Dear Reverend Dietz:

You have asked a question addressing access to your divorce records. Access to court records falls outside of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and one would need to look to other state laws governing the administration of Virginia's courts.1 We can, however, advise you that you should be able to go to the clerk of court's office where the proceeding took place and obtain a copy of the record. Even if a divorce proceeding is sealed, the records are still available to parties to the action. Additionally, you might want to contact your original attorney in writing to obtain your file. This office is limited to issuing advisory opinions concerning FOIA, and thus is not in a position to give legal advice on this matter. The tone of your letter indicates that you may need a lawyer.

Thank you for contacting this office. I am sorry that we are not able to be of more assistance.

Sincerely,

Maria J.K. Everett
Executive Director

1 Clarification: The fact scenario leading to this question indicated that Rev. Dietz was a party in a divorce action, and that her ex-husband had the court records sealed without her consent. Her question was not about access to court records generally, but asked how she could access her own sealed court records and how to obtain a copy of her file from her former attorney. Therefore, the question was outside the scope of FOIA. Generally, court records are subject to FOIA like records of any other state or local public body. The definition of a public body under FOIA includes "organizations, corporations or agencies in the Commonwealth supported wholly or principally by public funds," which the Office of the Attorney General has interpreted to include the courts of the state. See 1981-82 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 60. The response to this question applies only to the specific facts presented, and should not be interpreted to mean that court records generally are not subject to FOIA.

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