IV. PROCEDURE FOR ASSERTING RIGHT OF ACCESS

A person who is a member of a public body who knowingly and intentionally violates the open meeting law may be convicted of a misdemeanor and fined up to $500. 1 V.S.A. § 314(a). Any person aggrieved by a violation of the statute may seek injunctive or declaratory relief in superior court to enforce the law, and the court should expedite such cases. Id. § 314(b). See Trombley v. Bellows Falls Union High Sch. Dist., 160 Vt. 101, 624 A.2d 857 (1993); Rowe v. Brown, 157 Vt. 333, 599 A.2d 333 (1991). The Vermont Supreme Court has read the term "aggrieved" to require "that plaintiffs must make some showing of injury to obtain relief." Trombley, 160 Vt. at 106; 624 A.2d at 861. Such a showing should not be difficult, however, because the Court has also held that the public meetings law is "entitled to a liberal construction in support of the goal of open access to public meetings for members of the public," and that "[e]xemptions . . . must be strictly construed." Id. at 104, 624 A.2d at 860; see also Blum v. Friedman, 172 Vt. 622, __, 782 A.2d 1204, 1206-07 (2001) (discussing standing requirements). Because the open meetings law provides remedies for "the curtailment of free speech [caused] by holding improper executive sessions" and for "violations of the rights to observe and participate in the discussion and decision making of local government," a plaintiff cannot maintain a suit for damages for the same injuries under Articles 13 (freedom of speech) or 10 (due process) of the Vermont Constitution. Berlickij v. Town of Caselton, 348 F. Supp. 2d 335, 341-42 (D. Vt. 2003).

In practice, interested persons — e.g., news reporters — try to make their concerns known to the public body as loudly and as early as possible, in the hopes that logic, or more likely political acumen, will influence the body's decision not to go into a questionably legitimate executive session. The reality is that almost all such situations are likely to have already occurred, especially where local boards typically meet in the evening hours, before there is even an opportunity to pursue judicial relief. There is no history of any Vermont public official ever having been charged after-the-fact with a violation of the open meetings law. Enforcement is thus largely dependent on the presumption of honesty and integrity on the part of public officials that still persists in Vermont.