The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Richmond resident files civil suit alleging FOIA office failed to produce timely response to request

Thomas requested text messages from Bert Ellis “related to his public service” in August

<p>Thomas says that he requested text messages from Ellis “related to his public service” on Aug. 22.&nbsp;</p>

Thomas says that he requested text messages from Ellis “related to his public service” on Aug. 22. 

Richmond resident Jeffrey Thomas Jr. has filed a lawsuit against the University’s Board of Visitors alleging that the Freedom and Information Act Office has failed to produce records for a request for documents from Board member Bert Ellis in a timely manner. In his petition, Thomas says that he requested text messages from Ellis “related to his public service” Aug. 22. 

Thomas added that the University responded Aug. 31 — six working days after the request was filed — and asked for an extension until Sept. 7, which Thomas granted. 

By Sept. 8, Thomas said he hadn’t heard from the FOIA office and reached back out — they once again requested an extension until Sept. 16, which Thomas declined. Thomas gave the office three working days notice that he would be filing the lawsuit, and did so Sept. 13. 

The FOIA office did not respond to a request for comment. 

If Thomas wins the lawsuit, the court will issue a writ of mandamus against the FOIA office. A write of mandamus is an order from a court ordering a government official to fulfill a set of duties — in this case, responding to Thomas’ FOIA request. Under Virginia law, organizations have up to five working days to respond to the request and provide the documents — if it is not “practically possible” to deliver the requested records within five working days, the organization may request an extension of time. 

“U.Va. FOIA Counsel asked Mr. Thomas for an extension until the 16th,” Ellis said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. “I am doing all I was requested to do.” 

Ellis was appointed to the Board of Visitors in July, and serves as the president of the Jefferson Council, a conservative group of University alumni and other stakeholders “dedicated to preserving the legacy of Thomas Jefferson.” 

His appointment to the Board has been met with criticism from groups including Student Council, University Democrats and Virginia Democrats. While he was a student at the University in 1974, Ellis invited known eugenicist William Shockeley to speak at the University in a debate, even as students called for Ellis to cancel the event. A few months later, Ellis denied a request from the Gay Student Union to host prominent gay rights activist Frank Kameny. More recently, Ellis traveled to the Lawn with a small razor blade to remove a sign that was at the center of controversy for its use of expletives to criticize the University’s history of racism and inaccessibility. 

Ellis and Governor Glenn Youngkin’s other three new appointees are in the midst of their first series of meetings this academic year.

The hearing is scheduled for Sept. 20 at 9:00 a.m. in the Richmond General District Court.