A Vermont judge has ordered the state attorney general’s office to pay almost $66,000 in legal fees in three cases where it was forced to comply with the state's public records law.
Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout wrote in a ruling late last month that the cases "strongly vindicate" — the rights of a records' requester to gain access to public documents in a timely fashion.
Charlotte attorney Brady Toensing filed the public records requests on behalf of business groups concerned about attorneys general around the country teaming up to investigate environmental cases.
“This decision is really important because it’s exactly what the Legislature intended when it rewrote the law [in 2011],” he said. “The Legislature intended to punish recalcitrant bureaucrats who improperly block access to public records.”
The attorney general's office is considering appealing the case to the Supreme Court. Deputy Attorney General Joshua Diamond said says the ruling allowing full legal fees may be wrong, because Toensing did not get all the records he sought.
“While we respect Judge Teachout’s decision, we are concerned that the decision creates a problem because it allows for lawyers getting paid for litigating over documents or records they weren’t entitled to,” he said. “In one of the cases [Toensing’s client] sought out about 200 different document. And at the end of the day, the court ruled that only four should be produced in their entirety and six should be produced with redactions.”
Diamond said Toensing’s client did not “substantially prevail” in that records case, and therefore he may not deserve the legal fees. “And that’s why we are concerned,” he said.