CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office says it will not release the contents of federal subpoenas recently received by two of Gov. Joe Manchin's cabinet agencies.
The lawyer who is helping the Department of Administration and Division of Highways comply with those subpoenas has rejected the Gazette's request for the documents.
The newspaper sought the subpoenas through a request made under West Virginia's Freedom of Information Act.
In declining to release the subpoenas, Special Assistant Attorney General Dwane Tinsley cited federal rules that govern criminal proceedings. Tinsley is a Charleston lawyer hired by McGraw's office to assist in the case.
West Virginia University law professor Patrick McGinley, an expert on the Freedom of Information Act, said it appears that the state is improperly withholding the documents.
Tinsley wrote that the requested documents are exempt from the state public-records law because the federal rules prohibit government attorneys and others from disclosing matters before a grand jury.
"The information requested and contained in grand jury subpoenas would tend to reveal the direction of the grand jury investigation that could impede the investigation being conducted, and thereby interfere with the enforcement of the law," Tinsley wrote last week.
But McGinley said no law prohibits recipients of federal grand jury subpoenas from discussing the contents of a subpoena, unless a court order says otherwise.
Secrecy requirements for participants in the grand jury -- such as jurors and prosecutors -- do not extend to witnesses or potential witnesses, McGinley said.
"Somebody who goes before a grand jury could come out and tell the press what questions were asked, and how he or she or responded, unless there's a court order barring that," McGinley said, "and the same applies to a subpoena."