Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wednesday February 10, 2016

So I haven't reported in a few days and for that I apologize. I am just back from the ABA Mid Year Meeting where I attended my first House of Delegates meeting as a representative of our association. What a great experience. I was impressed by every aspect of the organization of the House, the sincerity and knowledge of the delegates and the seriousness with which they approach every item on the day long agenda. Many thanks to Fritz Langrock, out state delegate, who is a great mentor.

But anyway, you're probably more in what's happening in Montpelier. Las t week the four judges up for retention this year appeared before the Retention Committee. There really weren't any surprises and all four made strong arguments as to why they deserve another six year term. Judge Durkin spoke to reducing the backlog in E division cases since he came to the bench. He also let the committee know how he has sat and will continue to sit in all jurisdictions as needed to fill the needs of the judiciary. He did tell the committee about the staffing challenges the E division has faced and also responded to a question about pro se litigants in his court.

Judge Howard spoke to the committee about the eight new judges; fully 25% of the judiciary is new. That will impact operations as well as judicial college programing. He also addressed the staffing challenges and the caseload increases due mostly to opiate abuse. He did offer a suggestion about low level misdemeanors  and suggested they be diverted or deferred. The only criticism from the surveys was a comment that he could show some frustration and irritability.

Judge Toor said that working with pro se litigants is a challenge and now a large part of the job. That of course raises issues of showing compassion for the people appearing before the bench. Although a judge has to let "people tell their story" there needs to be a balance between the time that takes and the need to make  case to resolution. She talked about the pro se clinic she began in Chittenden County. She makes an effort to write in "plain english". The committee was impressed with her reaching out to jurors after the end of a trial, as well asher offering to give feedback to the lawyers. Some of the comments in her surveys went to her being very much a judge who follows or insists on following the rules. She admitted that she is critical if the parties are not prepared. There was a discussion about whether Vermont should continue to recruit "generalist judges"  and that morphed into a conversation about rotation.

Judge Mello was last; he spoke to his background and his practice before joining the bench. As this was his first retention hearing he didn't face much criticism except for one reviewer who criticized his choice of words in a sentencing hearing. Clearly, he recognized that and has been more careful about this choice of language.

Tomorrow, Thursday the 11th, the committee will hold a public hearing at 7 PM in Room 11 at the statehouse to hear from anyone who wants to be heard on any of these judges. I'll report on that after Friday. As always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Yesterday I sat through the presentation of Vermont Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer's report on the judiciary's collection of public defender co-pays. If you haven't seen the news reports or read the report, it essentially concluded that the judiciary is only collecting about a third of the amount ordered. His report can be found here:

As the auditor said, "to the extent you folks are looking under rocks for money", every dollar not collected impacts the state's finances.His main criticisms of the judiciary is that they don't do anything to collect what the court ordered. Now, of course, this population of defendants may not have a great ability to make payments but a court did order something to be paid. Also, he criticized the court by saying, even though it does have a collection function, they don't collect this money as it isn't theirs but goes into the public defender special fund.

The court administrator and the chief superior judge are expected to reply this afternoon. Their comments to the report can be found in the link above beginning on page 20. I'll report back after that.

Also, this afternoon the judiciary will be presenting its ideas on lightening the load. I've been assured that the VBA will be able to bring in its witnesses to address those things the  court wants to pursue. If you are members of the VBA Sections on Probate, Family, Municipal, or Workers' Comp you've already read most of that through our list serves.

Tonight is the initial meeting of the Joint Committee on Judicial Retention. They will be interviewing Judges Durkin, Howard, Mello and Toor beginning at 5PM. Again, I'll report on that tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.