Choquette honored with award showcasing his lifetime commitment to the First Amendment

MONTPELIER – Joseph L. Choquette III of Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC has been selected to receive the Matthew Lyon Award for his lifetime commitment to the First Amendment and the public’s right to know the truth in Vermont.

The Vermont Press Association will honor Choquette at its annual awards banquet Thursday, Dec. 13 at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier.

Choquette has spent three decades in governmental relations work, including 19 years as the director of external affairs at Downs Rachlin Martin, one of the state’s top law firms. Choquette serves as a lobbyist for several major organizations, including the Vermont Press Association, which represents the interests of 11 daily and about four dozen non-daily newspapers.

VPA President Lisa Loomis of The Valley Reporter in Waitsfield said Choquette has been a key figure over the years on the front lines in the fight by the press association and other groups seeking greater public accountability in state and local government.

Loomis said Choquette’s work involved a wide range of efforts, including that courts and government officials ensure public records are made easily available to Vermonters.  Also that government meetings and court hearings are open to Vermonters, she said.

“Joe has been the eyes and ears at the Vermont Statehouse when it comes to public records, open meetings, court access and identifying some ill-advised proposed legislation,” Loomis said.

The Lyon award honors people who have an unwavering devotion to the First Amendment and to the principle that the public’s right to know the truth is essential in a self-governed democracy, Loomis said.  Lyon’s portrait hangs in the first floor hall at the Statehouse.

Earlier Choquette served as executive director of the Vermont Petroleum Association and director of marketing and communication for the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

He also previously worked for the University of Vermont initially as director of sports information and later as the director of news media relations.  He also worked as a sportswriter for the Rutland Herald and Eagle Times in Claremont, N.H.  He is a past president of the Vermont Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association, the Vermont Society of Association Executives, the Montpelier Rotary Club and the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra Society.

Choquette lives with his wife Tammie in Barre.

The Lyon Award is named for a former Vermont congressman who was jailed in 1798 under the Alien and Sedition Act for sending a letter to the editor, criticizing President John Adams.  While Lyon was serving his federal sentence in a Vergennes jail, Vermonters re-elected him to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Lyon is credited with ousting Adams by casting the deciding vote in favor of Thomas Jefferson when the 1800 presidential race went to Congress for a final determination.

Previous Matthew Lyon award winners include Patrick J. Leahy for his work as a state prosecutor and U.S. senator; Edward J. Cashman for his efforts as Chittenden Superior Court clerk, a state prosecutor and Vermont judge; Robert Hemley for his many successful fights as a lawyer to keep courtrooms open and court files available to the public;  Gregory Sanford, state archivist, for his work in maintaining, restoring and saving government records for public access;

Other winners are H. Allen Gilbert, executive director of ACLU in Vermont for fighting for greater public access to government records and for public disclosure about police misconduct; Ken Squier and WDEV-radio for long-term efforts to inform Vermonters about state and local issues, and Mike Donoghue, Burlington Free Press reporter, VPA officer and adjunct journalism at St. Michael’s College for efforts to ensure public access to government meetings, public records and court hearings.