At issue is whether Dr. Howard Dean, former Vermont Governor, former U.S. President hopeful and now leader of the Democratic National Committee, can do an end run around the Vermont Public Access Laws.Judicial Watch sought and was repeatedly denied access to Dean’s gubernatorial records. In an unprecedented move to seek blanket executive privilege, Governor Dean, the Vermont Secretary of State and Vermont’s State Archivist negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding hoping to superceded the State’s Public Access Laws and shield the records from public scrutiny for 10 years. (Dean initially wanted 24 years.) A lawsuit filed on December 3, 2003 names these three individuals. In its lawsuit Judicial Watch seeks access for it, the public and the media to upwards of 450,000 records.At the time, then Governor Dean cited his presidential aspirations as the basis for denying the public access to the records, reportedly telling Vermont Public Radio “Well, there are future political considerations. We didn’t want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor.”Judicial Watch agrees with Vermont Archivist Sanford when he reminded Dean’s legal counsel, David Rocchio, “The open records law (1 V.S.A. ‘315) declares ‘it is in the public interest to enable any person to review and criticize [the officers of the government] decisions even thought such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment.’ So the scenario we were discussing – use of the gubernatorial records to embarrass a national campaign – is not one covered by Vermont Law.” View the letter.Of course all this begs the question – exactly what is so embarrassing to Howard Dean that he going to such lengths to hide it?On February 13, 2004 the Vermont Superior Court ruled against Dean and the State of Vermont. They appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court who agreed to hear the case.On Monday March 14, 2005, the Vermont Supreme Court heard oral arguments. It was one of several cases that were chosen by the Supreme Court to be heard during their annual Vermont Law School Session in South Royalton, VT. Gravel and Shea, a Vermont law firm, represented Judicial Watch.The Vermont Supreme Court ruled on November 4, 2005 in favor of allowing Dean to keep his governor records secret.
Official Legal Documents
- Aug 25, 2003 – Judicial Watch’s requests access to Dean’s gubernatorial records. View initial public records request.
- Aug 26, 2003 – View State Archivist’s Response and Memorandum of Understanding governing the records of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean
- Sep 25, 2003 - Letter from Judicial Watch to Howard Dean regarding releasing sealed gubernatorial records. (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
- Dec 3, 2003 – Judicial Watch files suit against Howard Dean in Vermont. View Complaint Under Vermont Access to Public Records Law and Request for Precedence on the Docket.
- Dec 23, 2003 – Notice of Appearance by Vermont Attorney General
- Dec 23, 2003 – Defendant’s response that Judicial Watch is not entitled to inspect the records and asks the court to rule that the Memorandum of Understanding and the seal of the records are valid. View Defendants’ Answer and Counterclaim.
- Dec 23, 2004 - Judicial Watch’s Reply to Counter Claim
- Jan 22, 2004 – Judicial Watch files Plaintiff’s Motion for Rule 12(c) Judgment and Supporting Memorandum. “There is no Vermont statute or Vermont case law supporting the right of a Vermont Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and State Archivist to negotiate, enter into and enforce an “agreement” to make an end run around the Public Records Act.” View the document.
- Feb 12, 2004 - Plaintiff’s Reply Memorandum in Further Support of Rule 12(c) Judgment and Supporting Memorandum. “Defendants are concealing public records. They have failed to meet their burden of establishing any exemption to disclosure. For that simple reason, judgment should be granted in favor of Plaintiff as a matter of law under V.R.C.P. 12(c).” View the document.
- Feb 13, 2004 – The Vermont Superior Court ruled against Howard Dean and the State of Vermont. Dean and the State of Vermont will now be required to provide an index of the sealed documents and a specific justification for keeping them sealed. View the decision.
- Mar 18, 2004 – The Defendant’s file a Motion for Reconsideration and Judicial Watch responds. View Plaintiff’s Omnibus Memorandum Opposing Defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration/Interlocutory Appeal and In Response to Defendants’ Memorandum on the 7 Step Process.
- August 2, 2004 - Argument Against Keeping Governor Dean's Records Sealed - Judicial Watch argues that Vermont’s Public Record Act and supreme court precedent supercede Howard Dean's order to seal records related to his governorship.
- November 4, 2005 - Vermont Supreme Court Decision - The Vermont Supreme Court decides that Howard Dean's agreement with the Secretary of State to keep his correspondence sealed for ten years is permissible under Vermont law.
- November 23, 2005 - Motion for Reargument - "Judicial Watch respectfully moves for reargument ... because the Court has misapprehended and overlooked the import of our legal argument regarding separation of powers."
- State of Vermont Internal Correspondence and E-mails regarding Howard Dean’s request to seal records. Includes letter from State Archivist to David Rocchio, Governor’s Counsel on executive privilege.