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The New England First Amendment Coalition argued that Vermont residents should be able to view, free of charge, police body camera footage, calling access to such public documents the “vena cava of an open society.”
“Without this access, citizens must rely on the statements of public officials to learn what their government is doing,” NEFAC and other open government advocates argued in a Jan. 28 amicus brief.
“While the process of providing public records for inspection entails some monetary costs, the Vermont Legislature has time and again made the policy choice to have taxpayers bear the burden of those costs rather than shift expenses to the individual requester,” the groups added.
The brief — drafted by attorneys at Tarrant, Gillies & Richardson and Cornell Dolan — was filed in Doyle v. Burlington Police Department. The case involves a Vermont resident who requested body cam footage of police officers arresting a minor in 2017. The department initially refused access to the video but eventually offered it to the resident for a fee of several hundred dollars.
In their brief, NEFAC and its fellow amici focused on the consequences such a policy could have on journalists.
“The right to inspect as a part of the right to access agency documents and records is an indispensable component of the journalistic process,” they wrote. “It is through the free and open examination of records that journalists can sift through voluminous details and independently gather key information and facts about an emerging story.”
NEFAC regularly files and joins amicus briefs in cases involving the First Amendment and the public’s right to know. The coalition recently argued for Massachusetts public records in aggregate form, timely access to juror identities, immediate access to civil court documents, the right to private emails of government officials when they pertain to public business, the freedom to record public police activity and the preservation of anti-SLAPP laws.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
here.Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation
Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.