MONTPELIER, Vt. – A judge ruled Tuesday that neither former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) nor the secretary of state had authority to agree to a blanket seal covering 145 boxes of records from his 11 years as governor.
Superior Court Judge Alan W. Cook said Dean and the state must identify the roughly 600,000 sealed documents and describe why each of them is protected by executive privilege. An appeal of the ruling to the state Supreme Court is likely.
"Howard Dean is now getting a lesson in government openness," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch (search), which last fall filed the suit seeking to open the papers.
At issue are 145 boxes of papers that Dean and the secretary of state agreed to seal for 10 years when he left office a year ago. Dean claimed executive privilege in sealing the documents, but Cook said executive privilege could not be asserted in such a broad claim.
Dean also gave the state 190 boxes that were available to the public immediately. Two of Dean's predecessors used executive privilege to seal roughly the same percentage of their documents as well, but not for as long.
Dean's Democratic rivals for the presidential nomination pushed the sealed records as an issue. Joe Lieberman said last year that closing the records did not fit with Dean's efforts to present himself as a straight talker.
"That's not the way to build public trust — especially after three years of secret-keeping and information-blocking by George W. Bush," Lieberman said.