DEAN: BETTER CALL YOUR LAWYER

When pressed on why he refuses to release a large chunk of his records as Vermont governor, Howard Dean has a standard response: he's being sued over the issue by a Washington watchdog group, so he's leaving the entire matter up to the Vermont courts, where a judge can decide which documents can be released. "Why can't a judge look at every single piece of paper and make that decision?" Dean asserted during a debate in Iowa. But Dean's explanation has drawn a demurral of sorts from a surprising source: his own lawyer in the case. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, a longtime Dean ally, told NEWSWEEK, "I wouldn't quite agree" with Dean's analysis. In court papers, Sorrell--on behalf of Dean and the state--isn't asking for a Vermont judge to review all the records. He is asking the judge to toss out the lawsuit and declare all 146 boxes of sealed records barred from disclosure on the ground of "executive privilege." Sorrell said Dean's records "are not his personal property any longer" and, in any case, "It's highly unlikely the judge will go over 146 boxes, page by page." Whatever the outcome, Sorrell said nobody should expect to see Dean's records soon. A ruling isn't likely before the summer, he said, and if his office loses, he will likely appeal to Vermont's Supreme Court--"so you can tack another year on." Asked how his friend could have misstated the case, Sorrell noted that Dean, whom he's backing for president, is no lawyer. "I don't think Howard Dean would know the term 'summary judgment' if it bit him in the ear," Sorrell said.