(Host) The immediate future of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean’s sealed gubernatorial records is still uncertain. Even if a judge orders Dean to release all of the documents, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says it could take months for her office to index and catalog the 150 boxes of sealed information.
VPR’S Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) The controversy over Dean’s sealed records took a critical turn last week when a Washington based conservative legal group, Judicial Watch, announced it was filing a lawsuit to force Dean to open these documents to public scrutiny. The group says it’s wrong to seal specific documents for political considerations. The goal of the lawsuit is to narrow the focus of a Vermont Supreme Court ruling in 1990 that supports the right of a governor to maintain confidential records.
After being strongly criticized by many of his Democratic opponents, Dean said he would be willing to allow a judge to review each document and determine if it should be released.
Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says the state Supreme Court ruling on the issue of executive privilege sets an important precedent. Markowitz says it’s certainly possible that a lower court could decide to clarify that decision by allowing executive privilege for documents that have political considerations – a move that would leave most of these documents sealed:
(Markowitz) “The case law on executive privilege is very new. There’s not a lot out there and so every time there’s a court case that deals with the issue it’s an opportunity for the courts to clarify what’s required, clarify what the rights are, and the rationale behind executive privilege.”
(Kinzel) If the lower court determines that records that have political considerations should be released, Markowitz says it could be months before her office can catalog all the documents and have them ready for public inspection:
(Markowitz) “Even if we get two or three people on it full time we’re not going to be able to get through all of the boxes for a couple of months – even working with three people around the clock, working to process the records. And so our hope is that if there’s a decision for opening the records, if that’s made, that we’ll be able to allow it to be incremental. So that as we process the records that we can make them available. So we’d begin to make the records available immediately but not all at once.”
(Kinzel) It’s unclear when a court date will be set for this case but it’s unlikely that any action will be taken by the courts until the beginning of next year.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.