"[The Caledonian Record] applauds the VSEA for fighting the good fight. We often fight (and win) but it typically costs us thousands in legal fees. We hope the VSEA’s victory becomes a victory for all of us."
Miracles really do happen!
A Big Score For The Public
Newspapers are often stonewalled by bureaucrats when they ask for public information. Vermont’s open record laws are so weak that there was little risk to a self-serving official to deny reasonable requests. Even when we win lawsuits against various government agencies (of which we have a distinguished record), there is no guarantee a judge will also award us our legal fees. The sheer cost of an action, therefore, is enough to stymie the majority of people from challenging the government that is supposed to serve them. That, tragically, perpetuates secrecy in government.
This week, Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford shocked the bureaucracy by awarding the Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA) more than $6,000 in legal fees, agreeing with the union that the state violated the law by billing the union $1,300 to view records related to the elimination of a union job. Judge Crawford said: "The state’s position was not supported by the language of the statute, by its history, or by subsequent case law. It represents a statement of what the administration wished the statute to say rather than what it actually says."
His language is strong enough to hope the rest of the court will fall into line and begin paying attention to the purpose of the law, i.e. freeing up public access to information, not hiding it behind fancy legal maneuvering.
We applaud the VSEA for fighting the good fight. We often fight (and win) but it typically costs us thousands in legal fees. We hope the VSEA’s victory becomes a victory for all of us.