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Judge: Health Records Nonprofit Is Subject To Vermont Public Records Law

A judge’s ruling in a lawsuit against the organization responsible for a creating a digital medical records system could help safeguard the state’s intellectual property, according to a lawyer who worked on the case.

Superior Court judge Mary Miles Teachout ruled in October that Vermont Information Technology Leaders, or VITL, is subject to Vermont's public records law.

VITL is a private nonprofit, but it was created by the state to build a digital record-keeping system for health care.

Teachout ruled the organization is the "functional equivalent" of a public agency because it is essentially funded and governed by the state.

VITL had argued that it was not a public agency.

The ruling came in a suit brought by Stephen Whitaker, who argued that VITL’s salary information and other documents should be accessible to the public.

The information Whitaker wants made public includes VITL’s contract with a privately-owned subcontractor called Medicity.

Whitaker wants the documents to show how VITL’s intellectual property was used and whether it was shared illegally.

“Why freedom of information laws are important is we don’t always just have to take the government’s word for it," says Anthony Iarrapino, an attorney who helped brief the case. "Citizens should be able to look at the documents themselves and reach independent conclusions."

Iarrapino says at issue is protecting the massive investment of taxpayer money in VITL’s work. He says state ownership of the work done by VITL is especially important if the organization is no longer able to function.

Although Teachout’s ruling requires VITL to disclose information under the public records law, there are exemptions under the act, which VITL could argue should protect some information Whitaker seeks to make public.

Disclosure: VITL's vice president and chief financial officer is married to VPR President and CEO Robin Turnau.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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