Municipal Litigation Reporter
The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision ordering the disclosure of employee records under the Vermont Public Records Act but reversed the portion of the court’s decision allowing the in camera inspection of possible child pornography documents.
In connection with an investigation, the Rutland Herald requested documents from the city of Rutland under the Vermont Access to Public Records Act (PRA) relating to two department of public works (DPW) employees and a police officer who allegedly were viewing pornography at work. The city refused to provide the documents on the grounds that they were exempt as records that were compiled in the course of a criminal or disciplinary investigation by a police or professional licensing agency under Â§317(c)(5) of the PRA or as personal documents relating to an individual under Â§317(c)(7) of the PRA.
The Herald sued the city and filed a motion for summary judgment. The AFSCME Council 93, Local 1201, the bargaining agent for non-managerial employees of the police department and the DPW, moved to intervene and filed a motion to dismiss. Following a hearing, the superior court ordered that the documents be released with certain redactions on the grounds that the documents were not exempt from disclosure. The court withheld 121 documents that contained possible images of child pornography but indicated that the Herald could review those documents in camera. The city and AFSCME appealed.
The supreme court noted that the superior court properly considered the relevance of the records to the public interest for which they are sought, the significance of the public interest asserted, the nature, gravity and potential consequences of the invasion of privacy occasioned by the disclosure, and the availability of alternative sources for the requested information. The supreme court concluded that the superior court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the public interest in disclosure outweighed any privacy interest. The supreme court noted that the court addressed any undue invasion of privacy by redacting the employees’ names and suspension dates and, therefore, affirmed that portion of the superior court’s decision.
The supreme court reversed the portion of the superior court’s decision allowing the Herald to inspect the documents depicting possible child pornography on the grounds that the lower court did not identify a legal basis for its ruling and there was not support for that approach in the PRA.
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