Vermont Supreme Court Hears Arguments to Unseal Reporter’s Shield Law Decision

NEFAC Supports Effort of WCAX-TV Ownership to Provide Transparency, Reasoning Behind Ruling

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |

The Vermont Supreme Court today heard arguments about a sealed Superior Court ruling that addresses the state’s newly enacted reporter’s shield law.

Gray Television, Inc., is seeking to unseal the decision which protected its station, WCAX-TV in Burlington, from being forced to comply with an inquest subpoena for all unpublished footage of a police-involved shooting. State authorities, however, argue the decision should remain sealed under the Vermont Public Records Law.

The New England First Amendment Coalition released the following statement about the case:

The New England First Amendment Coalition supports WCAX-TV’s effort to unseal a 2018 Superior Court decision and to reaffirm the public’s constitutional right to access judicial documents.

Releasing the decision would help Vermonters better understand how the court interpreted the newly enacted reporter’s shield law and it would provide the transparency needed to oversee the state’s judicial system.

Concealing court opinions deprives the public an opportunity to learn why judges rule as they do. Such secrecy shouldn’t occur unless under the most consequential of circumstances. It is antithetical to a functioning democracy.

With the decision kept secret, we’re all left to wonder why the Superior Court ruled as it did and how future cases may be affected.

Please see the following briefing for more information on the case, In Re: VSP-TK / 1-16-18 Shooting:

Gray Television (Appellant) Brief
State of Vermont (Appellee) Brief
Gray Television Reply Brief

A compendium on the Vermont shield law can be read here.

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. The coalition supports shield laws on the federal and state level, as well as regularly championing public access to court documents.

In Vermont, NEFAC recently argued for free access to police body camera footage, provided guidance to the state Supreme Court on its new online record system, opposed limits on media access and camera use in state courtrooms, defended the rights of student journalists, and provided civics education as part of its First Amendment and the Free Press program.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.