Rep. Brian Cina won’t turn over two documents related to Jan. 4 Burlington policing comments
By Guy Page
A Burlington legislator is arguing a novel ‘legislative privilege’ defense to withhold two documents sought by a former city employee using the Public Records Act.
Rep. Brian Cina (P-Burlington), moved June 8 to dismiss former assistant Director of Public Works Patrick Cashman’s civil suit claiming Cina violated the Public Records Act when he improperly withheld two documents. The documents concern Cina’s comments at a Jan. 4 City Council meeting opposing Mayor Miro Weinberger’s veto of ‘community-controlled policing’ approved by the council.
According to Cina’s motion, four days after the Jan. 4 meeting Cashman filed a Public Records request for all communications referencing the Jan. 4 comments. Cina produced a number of documents but withheld two, asserting ‘legislative privilege.’
Cina’s defense acknowledges that applying ‘legislative privilege’ in the same context as ‘executive privilege’ is an uncommon legal argument:
“The records withheld here are subject to legislative privilege. While the issue is a novel one for Vermont courts, there is every indication that legislative privilege applies to Vermont legislators at least to the same extent that it applies to Members of Congress. Vermont’s Constitution Chapter I, Article 14 is closely related by text and history to the U.S. Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause. All the same ethical, prudential, doctrinal, and structural considerations apply.”
The two documents could shed light on the role played by Cina – a prominent Progressive and sponsor of dozens of bills – in ‘defund the police’ legislation and other bills addressing ‘systemic racial bias’ in the criminal justice system.
Also, Vermonters who see a lack of transparency and accountability in Vermont’s Progressive/Democratic supermajority Legislature may be concerned if the court accepts Cina’s contention that the broad Congressional and Executive privileges found in the U.S. Constitution by the federal branches of government also apply to the Vermont Legislature.
Legislators do have ‘general immunity’ from lawsuits for their speech, debates, and voting records. However, their official communications – such as e-mails from firstname.lastname@example.org or other official documents – are generally considered disclosable under the state’s Public Records Act. Cina’s motion would appear to seek to restrict public access to at least some of these official communications.
Categories: State Government