Courts & Judiciary

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Supreme Court denies Shumlin’s appointment authority

House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, speaks to his attorney, state Rep. Janssen Willhoit, during oral arguments before the Vermont Supreme Court on Tuesday. Milton is challenging outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin's authority to name a replacement for Justice John Dooley, who is not seeking retention and will leave the bench on April 1. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court ruled unanimously against outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin Wednesday, barring him from appointing a new justice to join its ranks and delivering a stinging blow on his penultimate day in office. Shumlin, a Democrat, had hoped to appoint a replacement for Justice John Dooley, who revealed in September that he was not seeking retention on the court. Shumlin triggered the replacement process by calling upon the Judicial Nominating Board to send him the names of well qualified candidates to succeed Dooley, who will leave the bench when his term expires on April 1. But Rep. Donald Turner, the House minority leader, and Sen. Joe Benning, the Senate minority leader, petitioned the Supreme Court on Dec. 21 asking it to prevent Shumlin from making the appointment. Continue Reading →

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Supreme Court hears appointment case, decision pending

Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley speaks during oral arguments Tuesday for a case that will determine whether outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin can replace him when his term expires April 1. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin can appoint a replacement for one of its members, Justice John Dooley, before Shumlin leaves office on Thursday. The hearing Tuesday, held in a packed Supreme Court chamber filled with media, lawmakers, statewide elected officials and other observers, was triggered by a petition filed by Rep. Donald Turner and Sen. Joe Benning just before Christmas challenging Shumlin’s authority to name Dooley’s replacement. The justices made no indication Tuesday afternoon before ending the court session when it would issue a ruling. However, the court is expected to rule imminently in order to settle the matter before Republican Gov.-elect Phil Scott is sworn into office on Thursday afternoon. Should the justices rule in Shumlin’s favor he could then name a replacement for Dooley on Wednesday when the new Senate is sworn in. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin issues 192 pardons for pot possession

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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 11:35 a.m. to include additional information. MONTPELIER — Outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin issued 192 pardons to Vermonters convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana, fulfilling a promise he made last month and setting a new record for pardons issued by a single governor in the state’s history. Shumlin, a Democrat, announced on Dec. 8 that he was offering pardons to as many as 17,000 Vermonters who were convicted of possessing marijuana before the state decriminalized the offense in 2013, making it a civil violation akin to a traffic ticket. He said the offer was intended to help create “a more sane drug policy.”

A total of 460 people applied for a pardon through a special application created by the Shumlin administration. Continue Reading →

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Sears backs Shumlin in Supreme Court legal battle

Sen. Dick Sears

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include comments from Gov.-elect Phil Scott. MONTPELIER — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has filed a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court defending Gov. Peter Shumlin’s authority to appoint a Supreme Court justice before he leaves office on Thursday. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, a close friend and political ally of Shumlin, submitted the legal argument ahead of a Tuesday hearing scheduled by the state’s highest court to determine if Shumlin can make the appointment. Sears is asking the court to dismiss or deny the petition filed by two lawmakers challenging Shumlin’s authority. “Once the vice chair of the committee got involved I thought the chairman ought to get involved,” Sears told the Vermont Press Bureau. Continue Reading →

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Benning joins Supreme Court scuffle

Sen. Joe Benning

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court has granted a motion by Sen. Joe Benning to join a petition to the court aimed at preventing Gov. Peter Shumlin from appointing a Supreme Court justice before leaving office. Benning, a Republican from Caledonia County, said he was asked by Rep. Donald Turner’s attorneys to intervene in the case to help boost Turner’s standing before the court. Turner, the House minority leader, filed a petition with the court last week challenging Shumlin’s authority to fill a pending vacancy on the court. Turner plays no official role in the selection of a Supreme Court Justice. As a senator, however, Benning, along with the full Senate, must advise and consent on nominations. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin to offer pardons for pot possession

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks to reporters about his plan to pardon Vermonters convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana before he leaves office. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday he will look to pardon as many of the 10,000 to 17,000 Vermonters convicted of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana as he can before he leaves office on Jan. 5. Shumlin announced his administration’s effort to issue the pardons Thursday and the creation of an online application form on his official website. “When you look at the Vermonters who are sitting out there with criminal records because they had an ounce or less of marijuana, it could have happened in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, there’s thousands of them and as governor I’ve been trying to lead a more sane drug policy,” Shumlin told reporters. The state decriminalized the possession of an ounce or less of the drug in 2013, but many Vermonters still have convictions for something that is now considered to be a civil violation in the state, not a criminal violation. Continue Reading →

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Judiciary, VSEA reach agreement

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MONTPELIER — The Vermont Judiciary and the Vermont State Employees Association have reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract after nearly a year of tense negotiations. The two sides announced the deal Wednesday, which still requires ratification by the VSEA’s judiciary bargaining unit. The two sides agreed not to release details on the proposed agreement until the 170-member bargaining unit backs it. The agreement, reached after about 11 months of negotiations, comes on the heels of a fact-finder’s report and even an attempt at mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The Maine-based fact-finder, Michael Ryan, recommended that docket clerks and court officers receive an immediate wage review by a third party. Continue Reading →

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Sexual assault charges against senator dismissed

Sen. Norm McAllister, left, looks on as his attorney, Brooks McArthur, discusses the dismissal of the sexual assault charges against his client.

ST. ALBANS — A judge has dismissed sexual assault charges against a sitting state senator. Thursday morning, Judge Robert Mello dismissed two felony charges of sexual assault against Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, who was facing the possibility of life in prison if convicted on either charge. Mello dismissed the charges at the request of Franklin County Deputy State’s Attorney Diane Wheeler, who sought dismissal on the basis of what she called “some information that came to light last evening.”

In this case, “last evening” followed the first day of McAllister’s trial Wednesday, which included testimony from one witness, the now-21-year-old woman who testified McAllister sexually assaulted her numerous times, beginning when she was 16 years old. The accuser testified for more than four hours Wednesday — and was expected to return to the witness stand Thursday — as she recounted alleged assaults that took place on or near McAllister’s farm in Franklin as well as a house in Montpelier he shared with fellow lawmakers during the legislative session. Continue Reading →

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Accuser in McAllister sexual assault case takes the stand

Sen. Norm McAllister in court Wednesday.

ST. ALBANS — The accuser in the sexual assault case of a sitting state senator described her experience with the man as “hell.”

Wednesday marked the first day of the trial of Sen. Norm McAllister, who is facing the possibility of life in prison over two felony counts of sexual assault.

During more than four hours of testimony, the alleged victim — now 21 years old — wore a plaid green shirt and blue jeans and shifted back in forth in her chair as she recounted numerous instances of McAllister assaulting her when she was 16 years old. “I was in hell,” she said, describing the first time McAllister allegedly assaulted her in a barn near his farm in Franklin. McAllister — a two-term Republican senator from Franklin County who is seeking re-election — watched his accuser intently as she described working for him as a farm hand, saying he sometimes made her feel uncomfortable. “Just the way he looked at me, eyeballing me up and down like a person does, undressing someone with your eyes,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Jury set for McAllister sexual assault trial

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ST. ALBANS — The jury is set for the sexual assault trial of Sen. Norman McAllister. Following hours of questioning from attorneys representing the prosecution and the defense, a field of 84 prospective jurors was weened down to seven men and five women. The Republican senator from Franklin County is facing two counts of sexual assault — each count carries a potential life sentence — following his arrest at the State House in May 2015. His trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday and run through Friday. Continue Reading →

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