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Vermont court asks whether a government agency can sue a public records requester

By Dan Barrett, staff attorney, ACLU of Vermont

A Vermont superior court is considering whether a school supervisory union can sue a parent who submitted a public records request to it.

Marcel Cyr – whom co-counsel Ted Hobson and I represent in the lawsuit – was banned in March by the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union from being on any school property in the four-town area. The supervisory union never told Cyr why it was banning him, so he submitted a public records request to it asking for any information showing why he had been banned.

The supervisory union wrote back and asked for a ten-day extension in responding to his request, as permitted under the state’s Access to Public Records Act. But instead of responding, it filed suit against him and asked the court to declare that it need not respond at all to his public records request.

The supervisory union claims that it took this unusual step because an anonymous person told it that Cyr is a threat to the schools.

Cyr has moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the access law permits public records requesters to sue public agencies, but not vice versa, and pointing out that citizens and journalists will be afraid to use it if they think that submitting a records request will get them sued.

The superior court in Rutland, Vt., heard arguments on the motion on Oct. 2 and is expected to issue a ruling shortly. Court documents in the suit are online at the ACLU of Vermont’s website, www.acluvt.org.

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