THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG
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02/10/06 Science and Technology Committee chaired by VA Delegate Joe May of Loudoun County kills the one bill that would have protected all the personal identifying information in the Circuit Court Clerk's records.
Many heartfelt thanks to Del. Jeff Frederick(R) for all he has tried to do about the online records mess here in VA, but at the end of the day this past Monday, the citizens of Virginia lost big time in a committee chaired by one of the rudest men ever witnessed, Del. Joe T. May(R) of Loudoun County. Del. May should be voted out of office for his rudeness to the founder of The Virginia Watchdog while chairing the Science and Technology committee. The citizens of his district should know that he apparently doesn't care if their final divorce decree (which is considered a "land" record) is available in someone's home or office complete with all the details of who gets the kids, who gets the car, and SSNs.
Del. May wouldn't let Mrs. Ostergren complete her presentation to the Science & Technology committee and was very disrespectful to her. His first attack on her was about using the power point that Del. Frederick had set up just for the slide presentation but it didn't end there. He interrupted her repeatedly. He later told her to finish her presentation but when she continued, he then threatened to have her removed from the room if she went on.
And it's all on TAPE.
Was he just being rude because he was afraid that maybe Mrs. Ostergren had some personal records to show about someone in his family? Or was it Del. Purkey sitting next to him who may have been egging May on to stop her presentation since Purkey knows of the piles of information available right now online in VA Beach about his whole family? Why was May so rude is anyone's guess, but it happened. His face was beet red as he raised his voice at her and disrespected her in front of the whole hearing room.
But it's all on TAPE...and Del. May owes the founder of The Virginia Watchdog an apology. But is he man enough to own up to the fact that he was rude during that meeting and lost his cool? Probably not, but others in the hearing room were astounded. He not only owes an apology to her, but also to Del. Robert Marshall(R) to whom May was rude also. Del. Marshall's knowledge of committee rules in the end outshined May who had tried to silence him, but Marshall proved to be right and won the discussion. It made May look pretty stupid to be Chairman and not know or follow the rules. It was very clear that May, Purkey, and Del. Tom Rust wanted to kill HB 842.
Several members on that committee had no clue as to what this online records issue is all about and/or the "types" of records that will be available (or already are) in people's homes or offices. Most sitting there have never bothered to learn about this and have not been into the many websites that Mrs. Ostergren has been into over the past three and half years. She knows what's online since she has paid to get into sites and has boxes of records like mortgage records, judgments, tax liens, and final divorce decrees out of those Clerk of Circuit Court records sites.
To illustrate an example of his demeanor toward Mrs. Ostergren, he asked how she had gotten the records. She, thinking that the question was directed at her since it involved herself, got up to answer and Del. May snapped at her that he was asking the Clerk's Association lobbyist. One would wonder why Chairman May would think the Clerk's Association lobbyist, John G. "Chip" Dicks, III could answer that question since he doesn't know what Mrs. Ostergren does in the privacy of her home! And he couldn't answer it. His answer was pure speculation.
The answer to that question was finally able to be told to the committee when one Delegate asked her directly and Ostergren told them she got every record off the internet while sitting in her home in Hanover County with the one exception of Fairfax County's records which she got when she drove there to see the office of the Clerk who claims he doesn't have enough room for more computers in his office in the courts building at the Fairfax government complex. He has plenty of room, but he'd rather sell subscriptions at the rate of $25 a month (that's the charge) and he has over 1,200 subscribers. And who else his subscribers let into the site is anyone's guess. And this is one of those Clerks who should tend more to the business of running his office and getting a good audit. (Here's an article about financial mismanagement in some Clerks' offices complete with the bad audits linked that is worth reading and keep in mind these folks make great salaries and have EIGHT year terms.)
Ostergren's presentation this past Monday was to have included different types of "land" records - final divorce decrees, mortgages, guardianship papers, etc. The records contain much personal information in addition to SSNs like children's names, DOBs, mother's maiden names, financial account numbers, and signatures, but the critical information was blacked out on those particular records that were to be shown to the committee by her.
And the committee also never got to see the "SEALED" court record that was obtained off one Clerk's site (King William County's) that she had "subscribed" to since that document was near the end of the slide show... and they never got to see the one record for Delegate Tom Rust and his ex-wife that contained their SSNs. This is that RECORD without the blackouts. It's only fair to show his public record since he voted to allow these records online.
Del. Frederick's bill (HB 842) was essentially killed (technically it was rolled over into Nixon's bill where it then went into oblivion thru amendment). Nixon's HB 563 was amended so it doesn't even read like the original bill introduced which would have given people the chance to have their personal info blacked on a Clerk's site (see D1). The italicized wording in HB 563's paragraph D1 is now gone in the new "amended" version. Therefore, this battle to protect all personal identifying information appears to have been lost. It is clear that our Virginia General Assembly has no intention of pulling the plug on this matter and protecting the unknowing current or former citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The Clerk's Association was instrumental in killing Del. Frederick's bill, along with Fairfax Circuit Court Clerk, John Frey, who spoke against the bill. Also the Executive Director of the VA Coalition for Open Government (VCOG) put in his two cents worth. The Coalition, he says, is for "open records." It apparently makes no difference to him or his group of newspaper members that #10 of the Coalition's "guiding principles" is that they believe SSNs, credit card numbers, and other financial account numbers "should be redacted from ALL public records." Also there was a lobbyist for a major data broker, Lexis Nexis, whose company collects and then sells SSNs and other personal information for profit.
QUESTION OF THE YEAR: To date, have you read about either of the three bills (HB 842, HB 563, or SB 383) in the Richmond Times-Dispatch or seen anything about it on local Richmond TV? No, because newspapers make up most of the membership of VCOG and they and the Virginia Press Association want these records online. But you did hear about the bills on WRVA in Richmond when BJ Ostergren was a guest on the Jimmy Barrett show on Jan. 13, 2006!
What should have happened on Monday, February 6, 2006 was the committee should have voted in favor of Del. Jeff Frederick's HB 842 since his bill would have protected the people's information/records and forced the Clerks to shut down their remote access systems until all six items could be removed then people couldn't get that information without driving to the courthouse. The six items appear in Paragraph A of his bill, but those six items now will be still be available to ANYONE in their home or office who signs up for a Clerk's site (paragraph D1 of Code of VA Section 2.2-3808.2) and the citizens in this state have no clue about this online records scheme.
McDougle's SB 383 is going to die in committee. It was not heard in the Senate Courts of Justice committee as shown on the agenda for this past Monday due to time constraints.
Finally, Del. Nixon's HB 563 was amended to omit the originally introduced wording shown in Paragraph D1 which at least would have given the citizens the option of having any one of the six items blacked out on the remote access copy of the records. Also the date for the Clerks to have internet access will be changed to July 1, 2007 - the year all county Circuit Court Clerks will be up for re-election. Everyone of them should be voted out of office for pushing this thru their membership in the Clerks' Association.
As a result of the wording at the very end of Nixon's amended bill which will be passed in the House today, Feb 10, 2006,, a Supreme Court committee will conduct a study to see if redaction of SSNs can be done. Ostergren told them during the hearing on Nixon's bill when she got to speak that Florida was already going thru a redaction process. Possibilities of redaction will only be to remove the SSNs...
But what about children's names, DOBs, mother's maiden names, financial account numbers, and signatures? Our legislators apparently don't care about those things... but they do care about campaign contributions. Here's a link to look at all the money special interests groups give.
How can the little guy ever win?
(c) 2003 Ostergren, P.C. (Page Format Only)