Thursday, February 16, 2017

Retention Hearing February 15, 2017

These are my contemporaneous notes form last night's retention hearing of five superior judges. The remaining five will appear before the committee tonight.

Judge Allison Arms:
5 and a half years; doing criminal docket in Chittenden now.
Comments- doesn’t appear to be happy; lack of humor. Serious person- difficult to know when a lite comment is appropriate.
What surprised you the most of going on the bench? High pressure environment- difficult decisions- time challenged- unexpected things happen. 17 years as PD. When the decision is hers it’s a very different matter. Good comments about moving cases along. Alimony guidelines: would be very useful.

Judge Thomas Carlson:
16 months a judge- did domestic docket mostly. Now in Lamoille doing all cases. Loves the challenges- intellectual, people. Likes to listen to the stories, figure out the law and then decide. Comments: a new bright star in the judiciary. Recognizes he needs more time in criminal court. Reads a lot of caselaw. Still learning docket management. Judges are very helpful as mentors. Intersection of criminal, family and juvenile court can be frustrating- fundamental challenges of poverty and there’s only so much a court can do. DCF’s job is “brutal”. Juvenile court and the services around it that can make a big difference. never had a bad experience with side judges while in practice. So far a positive experience dealing with them as a judge.

Judge Cortland Corsones:
10 years on the bench. Honored and excited to do this job; remains challenging and exciting to do this job. Has learned to be a good listener rather than a talker. Pro se litigants: two pro se in family cases; how difficult is it to get the info you need to decide? Takes a more active role; gives them a chance to speak then focuses them on the factors that need to be addressed. More difficult with one attorney is in a case; more difficult for the lawyer actually. Would like more opportunity to send people to diversion. Likes the deferred sentence bill that expands deferred sentences to those over 28 years of age. In family cases he likes to try to get the parties to talk and try to work some issues out. We need alimony guidelines. Opiates: support treatment; support DCF; more resources for juvenile courts as they are falling behind.

Judge Thomas Devine:
Second retention cycle. Just because someone has a very good lawyer doesn’t mean he has a good case. 12 years a judge after 10 as a magistrate. Talked about his approach to juvenile cases. Not an easy docket; biggest fear is sending a child home and harm coming to that child. Judges need to know more than just the law- need to know about domestic violence, child abuse, etc. Some comments about taking too long to decide. Has to be less of a perfectionist. More aware of human frailties as we age. Need to step back and not let some minor thing distract you. He was asked about his concentration in juvenile courts. He has sat in general jurisdiction courts and even within a system of rotation he likes the juvenile docket. Cases in which he has taken too long are those with complicated property division issues.

Judge Rob Bent:
Senator Benning recused himself. 11 years on the bench. A small percentage of our population uses most of our judicial resources. Every time I sentence someone or remove a child I’m doing social work. Try to follow the path of least harm. Maybe has a rocky relationship with some DCF lawyers. Some affidavits from DCF set the wrong tone; he wants to get parents engaged and not beat them down. First identify the problem; try to get parents to acknowledge it and then get to explore how to fix it. There was a comment about gender bias. He takes a comment like that very seriously. Asks himself if he would decide the same way if the genders were switched. Addressed time management and case management. “Courts are the sharp edge of social work”. Comment about deciding cases at status conferences. He tried to really find if there is an issue to decide. Concerned about the legislature’s reach into the courtroom; there has to be an analysis about which new idea to implement. When everything becomes a priority nothing is a priority.

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