The decision on Friday, Sept. 13, is an excellent, well-written and clear ruling, but the Vermont Press Association is not really surprised based on precedent. As Chief Justice Paul Reiber noted several times, the Supreme Court based its ruling on the plain language of the Vermont Public Records Act.
This is a case in which the Burlington Police wanted to charge excessive fees that would discourage Reed Doyle – or others in the public – from getting access to police videos that focused on both possible officer misconduct and unreasonable use of force with a child.
Doyle wanted to inspect the police videos of an event he witnessed in June 2017 near a city park. Burlington Police and the city administration wanted Doyle to pay several hundred dollars to view the video. That would be the same as a community library charging patrons every time they picked up a newspaper, magazine or book and sat there to read it.
The Supreme Court saw through the efforts by Burlington Police, which has provided other officer videos in the past for free. That was part of the reason why the Vermont Press Association, joined with others, including the New England First Amendment Coalition, Vermont Journalism Trust, the Vermont Secretary of State and several more organizations to get behind this appeal.
The Vermont Public Records Act and the Vermont Supreme Court decisions have always tried to lean toward access. As has often been said: “When in doubt, give it out.”
Transparency is what this country was founded on. The U.S. and Vermont Constitutions both require it. It is sad some government officials get into office and don’t like having their bosses – the general public -- looking over their shoulders while doing the people’s work.
Vermont Press Association