Courts & Judiciary

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Bucknam launches bid for AG

Deborah Bucknam (courtesy photo)

MONTPELIER — Republican Deborah Bucknam has entered the race for attorney general and will challenge T.J. Donovan, the Democratic state’s attorney for Chittenden County, for the office. Bucknam, 69, from Walden, officially announced her candidacy Monday and plans to hold a formal kick-off in the near future where she will outline the themes of her campaign. On Monday, Bucknam said her experience as an attorney in Vermont spurred her desire to run. “I’ve been practicing law for 37 years and representing mostly individuals and some small businesses, and I just see the effect of the justice system and Vermont state government on individuals. In recent years I haven’t really liked what I’ve seen,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin administration defends its request to delete emails

Darren Springer, chief of staff for Gov. Peter Shumlin, briefs reporters on the administration's request to delete the emails of former members of the governor's staff. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration sought Monday to disassociate its request to delete the emails of five former staffers from a major civil fraud case revealed last week against two developers in the Northeast Kingdom who used a foreign investor program overseen by the state to raise capital. Top administration officials briefed reporters on its request made prior to the public revelation of fraud charges against Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros to delete the emails of former administration staff members that are more than three years old. The request to delete emails came under fire over the weekend after it was revealed in a VTDigger.org article. “To conflate them is absolutely incorrect and inaccurate,” Darren Springer, chief of staff for Gov. Peter Shumlin, told reporters Monday. One of the former staffers in question, Alexandra MacLean, left the governor’s office for a job at Jay Peak, where many of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program development projects headed by Stenger and Quiros took place. Continue Reading →

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Federal and state authorities allege massive fraud in Northeast Kingdom development projects

Attorney General William Sorrell speaks at a State House news conference held to announce fraud charges against the developers of several EB-5 projects in the Northeast Kingdom. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — The federal Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday unveiled a civil fraud complaint charging a “Ponzi-like scheme” involving the main actors in major Northeast Kingdom development projects for misusing $200 million dollars of foreign investors’ money, while state officials filed a state-level complaint mirroring the federal charges. Ariel Quiros and William Stenger, owners of Jay Peak Resort and the principals heading up eight different development projects through the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, have raised $350 million in $500,000 increments from foreign investors seeking permanent residency in the U.S. through the investor program. Federal and state officials on Thursday said $200 million of the money raised was misused, including $50 million by Quiros for his own personal benefit. The eight ambitious EB-5 projects include improvements at Jay Peak and Q Burke Resorts and a biomedical research facility in Newport. According to the state’s civil complaint, filed in Washington County Superior Court on Thursday, the duo used various limited partnership companies to raise the funds. Continue Reading →

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House Judiciary passes stripped down pot bill

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MONTPELIER — The House Judiciary Committee scaled back a marijuana bill even further Friday in order to squeak it through the committee and keep the bill alive, setting the stage for a possible showdown with the Senate over legalization. By a 6 to 5 vote, the House passed a revamped S.241, which came from the Senate approving legalization for possessing up to one ounce of marijuana. But support for the Senate version never materialized in the House committee. A first attempt to pass the bill Friday that sought to decriminalize the possession of up to two marijuana plants failed on a 5 to 6 vote. After stripping out the expanded decriminalization of the drug, the committee turned Rep. Bill Frank, D-Underhill, who helped it advance on the second vote. Continue Reading →

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Vermont’s congressional delegation backs SCOTUS nominee

Judge Merrick Garland, chief judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, speaks at the White House Wednesday after he was announced as President Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Patrick Leahy)

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s congressional delegation is strongly backing President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and urging the GOP to abandon its promise to prevent the confirmation process from taking place. Obama announced the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, chief judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, at the White House Wednesday. Garland, 63, is seen as a moderate, consensus pick, but faces extreme opposition from Republicans in the Senate who believe the next president should be the one to nominate a justice. The president did his best Wednesday to undermine the Republican position. “I have fulfilled my constitutional duty. Continue Reading →

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DCF protection bill clears committee

Sen. Dick Sears contemplates the DCF protection bill Wednesday morning.

MONTPELIER — A bill that offers enhanced penalties for assaulting mandated reporters and criminalizes the act of making a threat cleared a key legislative committee Wednesday. By a vote of 4 to 1, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave its go ahead to a proposed law that would offer stiffer penalties for assaulting a worker with the Department for Children and Families or anyone who is required to report suspected child abuse. The bill comes in response to the 2015 shooting death of DCF worker Lara Sobel, who was killed outside her office in downtown Barre in August, and is one of several recent initiatives to protect workers who sometimes find themselves in the middle contentious domestic situations. Under the terms of the bill, DCF workers and mandated reporters will join the ranks of police officers, first responders and medical providers; assaulting a member of any of these professions carries a stronger penalty than the assault of the average person on the street. The enhanced penalty for assaulting a mandated reporter would only be in effect if the assault is directly related to the act of making a DCF report. Continue Reading →

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Hoffer: Judiciary failing to collect public defender fees

State Auditor Doug Hoffer

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Judiciary has done a poor job of collecting millions of dollars in fees for state-appointed public defenders, according to an audit report released Monday by Auditor Doug Hoffer. The state has failed to collect more than $2 million in fees over the past three years, Hoffer wrote in a letter to judicial officials, Gov. Peter Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro tem John Campbell, in a letter accompanying his audit report Monday. “We found that the State’s processes to collect court-ordered payments are not effective. The State has collected less than a third of the $3.1 million in court-ordered assessments for public defender services due between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2014,” Hoffer wrote in the letter. The sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of all defendants to legal representation regardless of their ability to pay. Continue Reading →

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Senate gives preliminary approval to privacy bill

Sen. Tim Ashe

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers offered a ringing endorsement Wednesday for a bill intended to protect personal privacy in the face of technological advances. With a unanimous vote Wednesday afternoon, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill intended to limit the way law enforcement can use technology ranging from drones and license plate readers to cell phones and computers to gather information on people. “Together, they do a thing we think is important, which is reinvigorate the conversation about how to protect individuals personal and private lives at a time of rapidly expanding technology,” said Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden of the provisions within the bill. Ashe noted how the concept of privacy has changed during the last 25 years, recalling when a person sending a letter would be “almost guaranteed” nobody would read it aside from the intended recipient, compared with privacy breaches today that lead to disclosure of email. Ashe also noted high-tech companies that are using satellites to photograph every inch of the planet. Continue Reading →

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Story + Video: Legal pot discussion commences, but support is in question

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https://youtu.be/4DN0PvMdnmc

MONTPELIER — Advocates of legalizing marijuana in Vermont are touting new supporters and the potential benefit to Vermont’s economy as State House discussions on legalization commence. The Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana held a State House news conference Tuesday to tout the support of former Vermont Attorney General Kimberly Cheney’s support for legalizing pot this year. The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently reviewing two bills that would do just that. The effort to legalize marijuana received a boost from Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin last week when he announced in his State of the State address last week his willingness to sign a legalization bill this year. Shumlin said he would sign a bill if it ensures pot would stay out of the hands of underage people, has tax rates low enough to scuttle the black market, considers road safety and uses revenue for drug use prevention and addiction treatment. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin looks to curb driver’s license suspensions

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin is calling on lawmakers to eliminate the more than 70 non-driving-related reasons a person can have his driver’s license suspended in Vermont. During his State of the State Address, Shumlin called on lawmakers to make it easier for Vermonters to get a suspended license reinstated, and to cut the number of reasons a license can be suspended in the first place. “Why are we creating a permanent economic disability and making it so difficult for people who want to improve their lives?” Shumlin asked the General Assembly. “I ask you to make driver restoration days unnecessary by passing legislation that ensures non-traffic-related offenses don’t lead to Vermonters losing their ability to get to work or drop their kids off at school.” (more…) Continue Reading →

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