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Vermont Supreme Court Favors Transparency In Key Public Records Ruling

The Vermont Supreme Court ruled that records of public business conducted on private email accounts are subject to the state's public records law.
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The Vermont Supreme Court ruled that records of public business conducted on private email accounts are subject to the state's public records law.

Vermont's Supreme Court ruled Friday that all records generated by public officials as they do their jobs are open to the public, regardless of where the record is stored.

At issue in the case was whether public officials are required to provide emails stored on private email accounts.

A lower court ruled in February that officials are not required to provide private email records, even if the emails and files in question are part of official state business.

Republican attorney Brady Toensing was seeking records from former Attorney General Bill Sorrell and members of his staff.

He argued that officials have to provide all records that have to do with official business — no matter where they are stored.

Friday's Supreme Court ruling went in Toensing's favor.

The court ruled that state law defines a record as public if the record was "produced or acquired in the course of agency business," and that the definition has nothing to do with where or how the record is stored.

As a result, officials in Vermont will not be able to shield correspondence from public scrutiny by using private email accounts, computers or cell phones.

The court noted that existing law has protections in place to protect the privacy of Vermonters and state officials, so the ruling does not open the entire contents of officials’ private accounts to public scrutiny – only records related to official business.

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