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Lawyer Sues State to Release Politician's DUI Video


Published October 7, 2010 at 10:45 a.m.

A Burlington attorney is suing the state Department of Public Safety for refusing to release the roadside video of state Auditor Tom Salmon's drunk driving arrest.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court by attorney John Franco, names DPS Commissioner Thomas Tremblay and Salmon as co-defendants. Franco believes Salmon's roadside video is a public record because it identifies his "initial arrest" while Tremblay refuses to release the video because it involves the "detection and investigation of a crime."

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss will hear arguments in the case on October 15 at the federal courthouse in Burlington. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

Questions have been raised in recent days whether Tremblay is playing political favorites when it comes to releasing roadside videos. Franco, who is an longtime Progressive and supporter of Democrat Doug Hoffer — Salmon's rival in the fall election — said he is acting on his own.

Earlier this summer, Tremblay released the video of a roadside stop involving Sen. Peter Shumlin, who was pulled over after he was caught speeding on Interstate 91. The DPS released Shumlin's video within one business day of a request from WCAX-TV.

In September, Franco asked for Salmon's roadside video from his November 2009 roadside stop where he was arrested for driving under the influence. Tremblay has refused to give out the video.

Franco claimed in this week's "Fair Game": “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why one video was released easily to the media when it involved a Democrat and why the other is being withheld when the person involved is a Republican."

Salmon was pulled over in November 2009 for failing to use a turn signal. He admitted to having had drinks that evening while out celebrating raises and promotions given to several office staff. An hour later he blew a .086 and was processed for driving under the influence.

Franco argues that Commissioner Tremblay is playing political favorites by releasing the video of Democrat Peter Shumlin and not the video of Salmon.

"Commissioner Tremblay's reasoning distinguishing the Shumlin stop as being 'civil' rather than 'criminal' is erroneous. The stop of Sen. Shumlin was no less the 'detection and investigation of a crime' than that of Auditor Salmon. Speeding supplies the factual basis for the investigation of a number possible crimes, including DUI," Franco argues.

"Indeed, according to press reports, Mr. Salmon was stopped for failure to use a directional signal when executing a turn. Disclosure of the record of the 'investigation' does not turn on what the investigating revealed or what the officer elected to charge as the offense. Nor does the right to release of the video turn on whether one public official (Mr. Shumlin) consented to the release while the other (Mr. Salmon) did not,"  Franco adds.

Franco argues there are no legitimate reasons the video shouldn't be released given the roadside stop occurred "in public view on a public highway, involving routine, statutorily-prescribed screening procedures" not secret investigative techniques.

Given the case has long since been adjudicated, there's no information that can interfere with an ongoing investigation, Franco noted in his complaint.

Read the full complaint here: Franco Complaint