Hello. I’m Lia Ernst. I’m a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont. I’m also a member of the New England First Amendment Coalition Board of Directors.
I joined the NEFAC board because those of us who seek to hold the government accountable can only do our work with robust enforcement of the First Amendment and open government laws.
NEFAC is an indefatigable and critical partner to those who value journalism and the First Amendment.
Journalists cannot effectively inform the public about what the government is doing without having efficient and broad access to its records and documents. As part of its annual New England First Amendment Institute, NEFAC has taught many of Vermont’s most dogged investigative journalists about the state’s open meetings and public records laws. Just recently, I successfully represented one of those journalists who learned about her right to public records at the institute and contacted the ACLU when that right had been violated.
In addition to giving journalists the tools they need to dig into government (mis)conduct, NEFAC routinely advocates for solutions to the challenges faced every day by New England residents.
NEFAC recently filed an amicus brief asking the Vermont Supreme Court to close a huge potential loophole in the Public Records Act after a trial court ruled that public business conducted on private email accounts was beyond the law’s reach. The coalition also made a convincing case for why police should quickly release body-camera footage of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed man in Winooski, Vermont, arguing that credibility and public trust can only come through transparency.
But equipping people to gather information is only one part of NEFAC’s mission. Information is only as valuable as people’s ability to disseminate it without fear of punishment. To this end, NEFAC testified in support of a bill giving Vermont student journalists greater protections against being disciplined for the content of their stories. In other states, NEFAC is protecting publishers from frivolous lawsuits and journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources.