Court forces state to pay $6,000 in public records law decision

first_imgOn March 30, Washington County Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford issued a decision to award attorney’s fees ‘in the amount of $5,400 plus costs of $626.44’ to the Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA). The decision stems from a January 6 decision by Crawford, ruling then that the State of Vermont was in violation of the law when it attempted to charge the union approximately $1,300 to view public records. Judge Crawford ruled that the State’s inspection fee “is plainly a financial impediment placed in the way of persons seeking access to records.”  In determining that the union was entitled to an attorney’s fee award, the Court noted, “The state’s position was not supported by the language of the statute, by its history, or by subsequent case law. It represented a statement of what the administration wished the statute to say rather than what it actually says.’‘The court’s ruling sends an important message to public officials that they could face direct financial consequences for wrongfully denying access to public records,’ said VSEA Associate General Counsel Abigail Winters, who brought the lawsuit against the State. ‘Because the State attempted to charge VSEA unlawful fees to review these public records’and the union had to take the administration to court to enforce our rights under the law’an attorney’s fee award is entirely just.’Winters added that VSEA has not been permitted to review the records, even though the Court ruled in January that the union was entitled to freely examine them.  ‘As a staunch supporter of access to public records in government, I applaud the decision by Judge Crawford,’ said Secretary of State Jim Condos. ‘At a time when our state is engaged in a vigorous discussion of ways to increase and encourage open government, including pending legislation H.73, I feel  it is important to remove unnecessary barriers to public access of state business.’Winters also warned that H. 73 (open records legislation currently making its way through the Legislature), contains a small but significant change to the public records act, which would allow the state and other public entities to begin charging fees to inspect records.  “VSEA believes this statutory change is a significant step away from government transparency,’ said Winters.  ‘It would enable government officials to create financial barriers to the public’s access to government records. Under the statutory change, an agency that does a poor job storing its records will be rewarded by being able to charge fees to a citizen who simply wanted to look at those records.” Condos said he also believes the Legislature should remove the language from H.73 before passage. ‘Vermont needs a culture change in regards to access to public records,’ Secretary Condos. ‘Free access to inspect public records was clearly intended by previous Legislatures and should be maintained.’ Source: VSEA. 4.4.2011 ###last_img

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