The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is planing to file a lawsuit to obtain West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice's official schedule and calendar, according to a letter the committee is sending the Republican governor's general counsel on Monday, shared first with NBC News.
The DSCC filed a records request via the state's Freedom of Information Act, asking for Justice's official schedule and calendar and for similar records related to his chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and general counsel in late March, shortly before Justice launched a run for Senate. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is up for re-election in 2024, though he has not yet said whether he'll run for another term.
The Justice administration denied the records request, with his general counsel J. Berkeley Bentley writing that the schedules contain official and personal business and the calendars and schedules are drafts that are continuously revised. The DSCC refiled the document request, which Bentley denied again.
The DSCC is taking the standoff a step further on Monday, notifying Justice's administration that it is moving forward with a lawsuit.
In a letter addressed to Bentley, DSCC counsel Jacquelyn Lopez writes that Bentley cited "out of state precedent" in denying the request, noting that state law does not have exceptions for draft records and that exceptions for personal information do not apply to the committee's request.
State statute allows someone denied a public record to pursue a lawsuit in circuit court. That's where the DSCC is headed next, with the lawsuit expected to be filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
“Jim Justice cannot hide his work schedule -- or lack thereof -- from West Virginians, and this is an area which is sure to receive further scrutiny in his nasty primary,” DSCC communications director David Bergstein said in a statement to NBC News.
Justice's campaign manager Roman Stauffer responded to the lawsuit in a statement, telling NBC News that Democrats are attempting to meddle in the GOP primary.
“Chuck Schumer and the Democrats have seen the polling that shows Governor Jim Justice winning this race and are in panic mode," Stauffer said. "They want [Rep.] Alex Mooney as the Republican nominee because they can beat him. The Democrats see that Governor Justice will be West Virginia’s next U.S. Senator and will likely help Mooney in the Republican primary election."
This is not that the first time that Justice has been engaged in a fight over his schedules. In 2019, the Associated Press obtained copies of Justice's calendar through a records request and found that his schedules "mostly show him at photo ops or simply unaccounted for."
Justice responded to the AP report by saying in a statement that the calendar did not accurately reflect his work as governor, adding that it "can sometimes change by the minute and because of this, there are times where all the good work we’re doing never makes it onto the calendar.”