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This was sent in email on 12/10/04 to all committee members whose address I had. To date I have not had one response from anyone on the committee. This email addresses my concerns about the lack of progress by this joint subcommittee to come to any meaningful conclusions regarding our records held in Circuit Court Clerk's Offices all over Virginia. The subject line of the email was "Threatened by Senator Devolites-Davis"

To start reading specifically about the threat and her intention to silence me, click here.



To all members of the Joint Subcommittee studying the protection of Online Records and other interested parties (Del. Nixon was absent): 

The meeting held Monday, 12/06/04, was very disappointing and my efforts and others' efforts were wasted in coming down there to see for the third year in a row virtually nothing be accomplished because "special interests" are winning out over the little people.  Politicians are elected to protect ALL the people's interests - not just those represented by highly-paid lobbyists who represent the minority.  It is very apparent to this writer and others who have heard the tape of that meeting and others that the citizens of this state are the big losers when it comes to the online records.  Why?  Because the majority of the citizens in this state don't have a clue what our Virginia legislature has already done to them - and their personal (albeit public) information which is supposed to be protected by the Circuit Court Clerks in Virginia.   Back in 1997 with HB 2762 when every Delegate and every Senator unanimously voted to allow our lives/records to be put online and be made available via the internet very few people had even heard of identity theft.  Since 9/11 you'd think our legislators would have wised up and maybe then realized the "unintended consequences" of having online records.

Yes, you get credit for wanting on Monday to extend the sunset provision of COV 2.2-3808.2 which came about as a result of Del. Nixon's House Bill 2426 in 2003.   And you get some credit for wanting to so something about final divorce decrees.  But what about the gazillions that are already online?  The records in the past weren't even mentioned....NO one on that committee apparently wants to protect ANY of those other types of records containing personal identifying that are already filed in a Clerks' offices which will be or are already is available online since conversation was only directed towards future records to be filed and no input from the audience was accepted  - except of course from those Sen. Devolites wanted to hear from...  

Sure you can talk about what to do in the future but what about the Final Divorce Decrees of people who have divorced in the past 10-12 years that are filed in Deed books and who weren't as wise as Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites-Davis - people who didn't know to get their divorce papers "SEALED"?  She and other people "in the know" knew to get their divorce papers sealed but the common everyday "Joe" and his ex-wife had no clue this could be done. I think even the Clerk's association lobbyist, Chip Dicks, had his divorce papers "sealed" but then again he's a lawyer and would know how to do it. But he's pushing for online access of the records since he's the front man for the Clerks who want these records available via the internet. (Note: If they didn't, they'd resign from that group.) 

It was stated in the meeting Monday that NO final decrees were on the Clerks' sites who are currently providing internet access!   Since when?  Final Divorce Decrees were scanned and are online and I have gotten lots of them off the "online" sites I have personally been into in VA since late August, 2002.  Some sites I paid to get into and some sites were free and open at the time.  Of course, Final Divorce Decrees are "public records" and IF the Clerks have a "secure" website they can leave all the six elements mentioned in Nixon's HB 2426 from 2003 session there for "ANYONE" who signs up to get into the records to see!   Having documents like that put the parents' and their SSNs at risk not to mention the minor children and their own personal identifying information since that document lists that information, too, in addition to where they live and with which parent and many other details.  But really, is there any such thing as a secure website?  NO!   Ask all the corporations whose sites have been hacked into like Tricare West, University of Texas, Yale, Princeton, BJ's Wholesale Club to name a few. 

When I sent out hundreds of letters into each those counties in 2002 and in 2003, I specifically got Final Divorce decrees off those "online" sites and copied just the page with the parents' personal information like where they now live and work, the DOB of both and SSNs of both... and the minor children's names and their info. All usually listed on ONE page out the whole document.   I also got SSNs on Final Divorce decrees sometimes even if they had no minor children because the lawyers who prepared them apparently didn't really understand the "Deadbeat Dad Act."  However, it is astounding that only (if I remember right) that Sen. Mims knew those sorts of documents were online; he should because he represents Loudoun and I sent plenty of letters into Loudoun to people whose Final Divorce Decree I had gotten.... and also name change documents - one I remember very well which contained details of illegitimacy of a young man who had served time in a juvenile facility in Delaware. 

Why should anyone be able to sit in their home and sign up and pay to get into a site to see that sort of thing on a 24/7 basis?  Those records are a virtual TREASURE TROVE of SSNs.  The Virginia legislature is enabling the "spoonfeeding of criminals" by allowing these records online.  Do you know who is criminal...or burglar.... or identity thief?   Will you know when a Clerk lets in a pedophile to the online records?   NO!  Since SB 241 was passed in the 2004 session and signed into law by the Governor, all Clerks will have to be online on or before July 1, 2006 with our lives/records. How stupid!  I have been fighting this online issue for over two years and it is greatly distressing to everyone I have talked to about this "online" records scheme that our VA Senate unanimously voted to make these clerks be online by that date.  (Read last line of SB 241- article on my website with links to bill and vote). 

What the committee should have done on Monday instead was come up with a bill that would take out the requirement of the Clerks providing statewide remote access IF they take the Technology Trust Fund (TTF) money.  (This wasn't even discussed Monday either.)  The legislature should let them out of that mandate because the Clerks are all hamstrung by that provision since they have all taken the TTF money.  But it's the citizens anyway who are filing records who are paying those TTF fees ($5 everytime they file or have anything filed for them at the courthouse) - not the real estate attorneys, not the press - but the people whose documents they are.  The citizens are footing the bill to get the records in their respective Clerk's office scanned and put online thru that $5 per document they are paying.  In other words they are paying to have their own lives/personal business put online - available to ANYONE who wants to sign up and pay the fee to get into a site!!!!   

AND no one at the meeting this past Monday mentioned guardianship papers or the desire to protect them.  I got guardianship papers offline from one site I paid to get into in VA which contain SSNs and DOBs of some elderly persons who couldn't take care of their own business any longer and now have someone else to look over and take care of their affairs.  No one mentioned that kind of information being available because most of the committee members have no idea what's in these Clerk's sites online.... And no one mentioned the powers of attorney being also available in the internet records online.  The POAs contained, especially in Loudoun, SSNs and passport numbers.  Yes, I said passport numbers!   POAs don't need SSNs or passport numbers on them but they're there and, again, available to anyone willing to "sign up".  They're online in every county in Va that I've been into.  Why?  Because they're filed in Deed Books!!!  And no one mentioned the Notary Commissions which I have tons of...complete with SSNs!    I showed the news people copies of all this stuff on Monday.  Why do Notary Commissions need to be online?  Didn't anyone on that committee realize that these sorts of documents are/will be online, too?  Apparently not!  But I've gotten them and I have copies of many...

And what about  UCCs/financing statements?  They weren't mentioned either so obviously the committee feels they need no protection (but they contain SSNs most of the time on the ones I have copies of) and neither mentioned were judgments/tax liens (for people who have paid fines for something).  In VA  "judgment" papers are popped out when people pay fines and the people they're about don't even know that piece of paper exists!  A lawyer who had a traffic ticket in Hanover County found out her SSN was on Clerk Hargrove's computer (but Hanover is not online...yet).   But that little piece of paper has someone's name, home address, DOB, SSN, and amount of the fine on it 99.99% of the time. Usually the SSNs and DOBs are missing if the judgment is between two private entities; however, if it's a tax lien from the Federal or state gov't, then you hit the jackpot in getting the SSNs.   If you owe back Virginia state taxes, that tax lien has the person's DOB and SSN on it for both people if two people owe money.  And that's on one sheet of paper!  If it's a Federal TAX Lien then you get the SSN only for the first named party.  If it's back/overdue student loans or back child support then you get only the SSN thanks to the Commonwealth of VA.  (I have many copies of those I got offline).   But no one mentioned protecting that online either in the meeting Monday!  It wasn't even discussed!!!  

Just because a person like current Richmond resident and state Senator Benjamin Lambert or former State Senator A. Joseph Canada, Jr. (who is now a Circuit Court Judge in VA Beach) or Hanover Board of Supervisor member Aubrey "Bucky" Stanley, Jr. of the Beaverdam District and many other "big wheels" (or relatives of "big wheels") owed back Federal taxes - but ALL these three mentioned have paid them off now - doesn't mean they should have their SSNs available to anyone 24/7 just because they signup and pay a fee to get into the records.**(see footnote).   Even CBN in VA Beach has been put at risk by this online records scheme because of a 1998 UCC on file there with their EIN showing...  But no one on that committee is even thinking about that type of document!  Why?  Because you don't want to protect the SSNs on that?  Or because you didn't even know that type of document is online?  I think it's the latter because you are not familiar with what's on these sites!

And no one mentioned (and I have plenty of copies of) probate records.  A Will may not contain SSNs but it does contain a lot of other  details of bank acc't info, etc.The list of inventories of estates contain many bank account, credit card #s, CD, and stock information.  What a good source of info also for an identity thief.  Or the list of heirs?  They're online, too.   When I sent out my letters, I sent some to widows/widowers to tell them how dangerous the legislature's online records scheme is. The ones who called me in response were appalled.

The most astonishing thing about this past Monday's meeting is that you all left those people in that room believing that only deeds, deeds of trust, certificates of satisfaction, reassignments, and homestead deeds were/are going to be online in the Circuit Court clerk's sites. WRONG!!!    Below is a link to a document which was prepared by the Land Records Management Task Force;  they came up with the definition of  Land Records and every Clerk in VA knows what "Land records" means.  But your committee apparently doesn't and it's obvious.  Click here   Go to the PDF document page 49 out of 94 and there is the definition of "land records" in the top paragraph which states  "Land records are defined as the books and indexes to all records contained in the deed books, will/probate books, judgments, and judgment lien docket books, and financing statement records (UCC's)." 

The reason thousands of Final Divorce decrees are online in the counties and cities providing INTERNET access now is because they're being recorded in the DEED BOOKS - especially IF the woman changes her name since Name Change docs are recorded in those deed books.  It's very apparent to me that some Clerks are just filing all of them in the Deed books though!   THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF THEM!!!   

Then to have a committee member in that meeting believe that the six elements in 2.2-3808.2 A. were being redacted (removed off the document) is beyond belief!  That person hadn't bothered to read paragraph D1.  I wrote an accounting of how that House Bill 2426 got gutted in our own VA Senate in 2003. It's on my website.  What started out as a great bill ended up being made totally worthless in protecting the records and the people to whom those records belong...   And then the Chair of the committee, Ms. Devolites-Davis, thought a person had to sign in when they go to a courthouse.  That tells me she's never bothered to go to a courthouse and probably has never signed up to access a site.  She hasn't a clue and doesn't want to learn.  So my advice to you committee members is go to a courthouse...get into those records. It's amazing what's there.  Albert Teich a former member of this committee stated in a public meeting in Sept. 2002 that he had never seen a SSNs on mortgage papers even though I was holding a stack of just one page out of about four hundred different documents and which every one had a SSN in them.  He did not know what he was talking about, as an example and how even a Clerk sometimes doesn't know what he's dealing with since his underlings handle most of the day to day work and handle the records. Sign up for access to a site and look around.  Loudoun is a good one to sign up in because they have some of the juiciest divorce decrees this side of VA Beach!  Ask me and I'll guide you thru working the online system

Lastly, it is amazing to me that the Chair of the Joint Subcommittee Studying the Protection of the Online Records (Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis) had the audacity to threaten me regarding if I publish PUBLIC RECORDS on The Virginia Watchdog website or anywhere else.  She stated to me after the meeting that "we are going to make sure you don't publish any records on your website" which, as I have made public over a year ago in a public forum, I am contemplating doing.  And she said it in front of a witness... or two.  Does privacy with regards to these Circuit Court Clerk's records only matter when it comes to you legislators or your family member(s)' records?   Is she (or others) afraid that the very system by which our VA legislators are allowing the free flowing of information of the common folks' personal information (via the ubiquitous internet) is going to come back and bite them if some of their/your most personal records see the light of day on The Virginia Watchdog or some other site?   So does privacy only matter when it comes to legislators' records but not ours (the little guy's) - and I speak for the common folk?  If "Joe Common Folk's" Final Divorce Decree sees the light of day on a Clerk's website, why shouldn't you legislators' personal records be published - but in a more prominent site which is free? Is it because maybe some power could possibly be wielded over a clerk(s) to have certain people's records made "unavailable" online - in other words, blocked from view?  Could be... 

But why allow anybody's record in the Clerk's office online that contains SSNs, DOBs, signatures, mother's maiden names, minor children's names, and financial acc't numbers?  Apparently from a conversation I had with the Executive Secretary of the VA Supreme Court on 12/8/04 and to whom I faxed a page out of several Final Divorce decrees to show him a sampling I find that he, like the majority of our VA legislature, think if a Clerk has his website certified as "secure",  then it's okay to throw these records online. 

After three years, almost nothing has been accomplished to stop the total hemorrhaging of info online by this Joint Subcommittee.  As far as my publishing some records on my website, let me remind everyone that these records are not called PUBLIC RECORDS for nothing.  I think everyone should read the following Federal case which the Plaintiff won when he took Washington state Attorney General Gregoire to court...

United States District Court,

W.D. Washington,

at Seattle.


William SHEEHAN, Plaintiff,


Christine GREGOIRE, et al., Defendants.


No. C02-1112C.


May 22, 2003.


  As the foregoing makes clear, the First and Fourteenth Amendments preclude the State of Washington from proscribing pure speech based solely on the speaker's subjective intent.  Likewise, there is cause for concern when the legislature enacts a statute proscribing a type of political speech in a concerted effort to silence particular speakers.  Defendants' position is troubling. Defendants' boldly assert the broad right to outlaw any speech--whether it be anti-Semitic, anti-choice, radical religious, or critical of police--so long as a jury of one's peers concludes that the speaker subjectively intends to intimidate others with that speech.  This brash stance strikes at the core of the First Amendment and does not comport with constitutional requirements. "[P]utting [certain individuals] in harm's way by singling them out for the attention of unrelated but violent third parties is [conduct] protected by the First Amendment."  Planned Parenthood, 290 F.3d at 1063.  Moreover, once the government places personal identifying information in the public domain, reliance must rest on the judgment of those who  decide what to publish or broadcast The Florida Star, 491 U.S. at 538, 109 S.Ct. 2603 (citations omitted).


 The statute is substantially overbroad.  Its deterrent effect on constitutionally protected speech is real and substantial.  It does not regulate true threats or any other proscribable mode of speech.  The statute punishes the communication of truthful lawfully-obtained, publicly-available information.  The statute is content-based and it does not serve a compelling state interest or state interest of the highest order.  In addition, defendants fail to demonstrate that the statute has any plainly legitimate sweep.  Because the statute, on its face, does not purport to proscribe true threats, it is unclear what speech, within the statute's scope, defendants have the power to constitutionally proscribe.  Further, the statute is not readily susceptible to any narrowing construction consistent with First Amendment standards.  Finally, the statute is void for vagueness.  Accordingly, Wash. Rev.Code § §  4 24 680-700 is facially unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.  The statute is invalid and unenforceable.


 This Court does not intend to minimize the real fear of harm and intimidation that law enforcement-related, corrections officer-related, and court-related employees, and their families, may experience.  As the State Court of Appeals noted, and the statute recognizes, judges and court employees are common targets of threats and harassment.  However, we live in a democratic society founded on fundamental constitutional principles.  In this society, we do not quash fear by increasing government power, proscribing those constitutional principles, and silencing those speakers of whom the majority disapproves.  Rather, as Justice Harlan eloquently explained, the First Amendment demands that we confront those speakers with superior ideas:

The constitutional right of free expression is powerful medicine in a society as diverse and populous as ours.  It is designed and intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us, in the hope that use of such freedom will ultimately produce a more capable citizenry and more perfect polity and in the belief that no other approach would comport with the premise of individual dignity and choice upon which our political system rests.  To many, the immediate consequence of this freedom may often appear to be only verbal tumult, discord, and even offensive utterance. These are, however, within established limits, in truth necessary side effects of the broader enduring values which the process of open debate permits us to achieve.  That the air may at times seem filled with verbal cacophony is, in this sense not a sign of weakness but of strength.  We cannot lose sight of the fact that, in what otherwise might seem a trifling and annoying instance of individual distasteful abuse of a privilege, these fundamental societal values are truly implicated.

  Cohen, 403 U.S. at 24-25, 91 S.Ct. 1780 (internal citations omitted).  In sum, for the reasons set forth above, the Court GRANTS plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and DENIES defendants' cross motion for summary judgment.  The clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

How about that, Sen Devolites-Davis?  Keep this case in mind the next time you make verbal threats to try and silence me and my political views.  You made that threat which I took as a real and perceived threat to deny me of my First Amendment right to free speech.  I don't take threats lightly - especially when it comes to my constitutionally protected rights. I will see any action taken by you and others to deny me of my First Amendment rights as just that.  Believe me when I tell all of you this that these records are PUBLIC Records and I will be publishing people's records on my website and exercising my right to FREE SPEECH to do it --- and FOR FREE.  The legislature wants the records online so the legislature shall have the records online - at least some of them.  

I have spent the past two years collecting public records and no law you can make can stop me from exercising my first amendment right to FREE SPEECH and I will defend that right.  Like that decision above says "Moreover, once the government places personal identifying information in the public domain, reliance must rest on the judgment of those who decide what to publish or broadcast."   That includes on the internet.  And the U.S. Supreme Court has also said that the government does not have a "compelling interest in stopping the publication of truthful information already available in the public domain" and the interests of FREE SPEECH outweigh privacy issues.  I believe that this compelling state issue that I am promoting warrants my right to Free Speech.  The Clerks' records are in the public domain once the Clerk "records" them and the VA legislature wants them online...  I am not promoting any illegal activities or encouraging such.  I will give examples of what's on a Clerk's site and putting a disclaimer on my site about how I only warrant I got the information off XYZ Clerk's computer system and do not warrant the information to be true - just that it came off a Circuit Court Clerk's computer and I also will tell people it is illegal to use another's person's SSN, DOB, or signature to commit a crime like identity theft.  And does anyone want to punish the truthful publication of public records already in the public domain by an individual asserting their First Amendment right?   No, I don't think so!  I have made it quite clear that I am against the Clerks putting the records online but I will draw attention to this hot politcal issue in any way I can and  if it's thru my publishing records then so mote it be! 

It seems that my publishing records as my political, free speech right as a result of our VA legislature putting these/allowing these records online may be the only way to really draw major attention to this matter.  When the citizens of this state realize their records are being made available via the internet already in some counties/cities or will be by 2006 in the rest of the VA localities, they will be furious.  I know when I sent out my letters that the people were furious and the sites were shut down promptly - except Arlington - due to public outcry.  The VA legislature created this online records scheme - I didn't!!!

Thanks for reading and I will enter into any meaningful discourse with any one of you if asked. I have always been eager to enlighten anyone of you as to how the situation really is as seen by someone who has been into many of the Clerks' sites (ME!).  By the way, the general public I've talked to thinks it's a great idea to put records (including some of yours) on my website.

On behalf of "the little people" who have no highly paid lobbyist representing them, I remain,

Betty "BJ" Ostergren,

Publisher of The Virginia Watchdog



To read the entire lawsuit which triggered the partial decision mentioned above, click here:

**(Note: only VA Beach is online right now regarding the three previously mentioned people with Federal TAX Liens but Hanover and Richmond and all Virginia localities will have to be online on or before 7/1/2006)


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Joint Subcommittee Members studying the “online records” issue are:
Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis
Senator William C. Mims
Delegate Samuel A. Nixon, Jr.
Delegate Robert B. Bell
Delegate Morgan Griffith
Delegate William K. Barlow
Former Clerk of Norfolk Circuit Court, Albert Teich, Jr.
Thomas M. Moncure, Jr., Esquire
Mark Barondess, Esquire
Executive Secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court, Robert Baldwin, Esquire


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