NEFAC Hails Vermont Supreme Court Ruling a ‘Major Win for Transparency’

Today’s Decision Follows Amicus Brief Filed By NEFAC and Vermont Media Organizations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefac.org

SEPT. 13 RULING

The New England First Amendment Coalition applauds a Vermont Supreme Court ruling released today that prevents citizens from being charged to inspect public records.

“This is a major win for transparency in Vermont,” said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “The ruling affirms the right of Vermonters to learn about their government and it removes a major obstacle standing between citizens and the transparency they deserve.”

NEFAC, the Vermont Press Association and several other organizations filed an amicus brief in the case — Doyle v. Burlington Police Dept. — arguing earlier this year 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.”

The case involves a Vermont resident who requested body cam footage of alleged police misconduct during an incident with 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 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.”

Citizens cannot be charged for requesting that examination which is different than requesting a copy of the record, wrote Chief Justice Paul Reiber in the 3-2 ruling, adding that:

“Based on the plain language of the [Public Records Act], we hold that the BPD cannot charge for staff time spent in complying with requests to inspect public records.”

• Read the full decision here.
• Read NEFAC’s amicus brief here.
• Watch a NEFAC press briefing from last spring here.




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.

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 here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University. 

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