Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Senate has appointed its members to the Joint Judicial Retention  Committee. The members are: Senators Benning, Flory, Galbraith, and Nitka. This biennium chairmanship moves back to the House and Rep. Tom Koch is the new chair. Hearings on the judges should begin in early February although the calendar is not yet set. As soon as it becomes available I’ll post it here.

Yesterday Justice Dooley and Court Administrator Bob Greemore made a presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee on the budget request of $2 million in the budget adjustment bill. Recall that the House passed bill contains that money. There seemed to be no opposition to the request in committee. In fact, the bulk of the hearing focused on an inter-departmental transfer of some $25,000; totally irrelevant to the budget deficit issue. It looks as though things should move smoothly for the judiciary. Fingers crossed.

Tomorrow morning the Senate Judiciary Committee will return to S. 31, the “Billings” bill. Two family practitioners with objections to the bill will be in to testify in opposition to the bill as written. I’ll report after that hearing.

Don’t forget the Bill Watch page on our website:


Book mark that page so you can return to either read a bill or check its current status.


Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday January 30, 2013

This morning Uniform Law Commissioner Rich Cassidy testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act, a bill that has yet to be introduced. Rich chaired the ULC committee that drafted the act. This will be the second go round for the UCCCA, the first version of which failed to pass the Senate in the last session. His testimony was really just background for the committee to begin to understand the issue. There is an estimated 35,000 statutes across the country that may apply post conviction. There may be as many as 300 statutes that contain consequences of conviction in Vermont. He also said that some estimate that 100,000 Vermonters may have a conviction in their past.

So what would this bill do? It would require the collection and updating of the list of collateral consequences. It requires notice to a defendant of the concept of collateral consequences that may be out there. it regulates the effect of collateral consequences from state to state and it would provide limited relief from some consequences.

As we know some consequences of a conviction are automatic (collateral sanctions) while others are discretionary (disqualifications). As I understand it the bill would make all sanctions discretionary and provide states specific grounds to exercise that discretion.

Check out this website for the list of consequences in Vermont, one of twelve states to have been researched to date:

Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, we created a Bill Watch page on our website where you can find those bills that we are tracking. Here’s the link:

Book mark that page so you can return to either read a bill to check its current status.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

A couple of quick things this Friday afternoon. First, Lisa Maxfield here at the VBA has added a Bill Watch link on the VBA homepage. If you scroll to the bottom and select the second bullet under Explore you’ll see a spreadsheet of those bills that I am following.

Earlier today the Speaker of the House appointed the House’s four members of the Judicial Retention Committee. They are: Tom Koch, Linda Waite-Simpson; Suzi Wizowaty; and Chip Conquest. All four are members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Have a great weekend and, as always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wednesday January 23, 2013

So, after a week without posting I’m back. Montreal was great as always and we didn’t really miss much under the golden dome when we were away. What is remarkable was that on Friday of last week the House Appropriations Committee voted out H. 47, the budget adjustment bill. It’s a midyear correction to the state’s spending. Fortunately for the judiciary the bill includes $2 million dollars that the judiciary needed. The bill passed the House on second reading yesterday on a voice cote and final action will occur this afternoon. let’s hope the funding for the courts stays in at this level; it’ll really alleviate a number of problems.

Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on H.1, a bill that would relieve the superior court clerks from the requirement of maintaining a separate book of judgments. Actually, I never knew that there was such a book. The testimony so far points to the requirement being somewhat redundant and of little value. Kathy Hobart, Clerk of the Lamoille Superior Court, offered that her survey of other clerks showed that they are almost never asked to produce the book. The Committee will return to the bill tomorrow afternoon and, barring any opposition, will likely vote it out and send it to the floor for action.

While that was happening the Senate Judiciary Committee began work on S. 1, a bill that would require a court to consider the approximate financial cost of available sentences prior to its issuing a sentence. More testimony needs to be taken and at this point I’m not certain where the bill may go.

This morning the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from Susan Murray and Mark Langan on S. 31, the bill that would overturn the Billings v Billings case. Susan was pretty clear about her and other family practitioners’ concerns about the case itself. She told the committee that the case created evidence problems, cost problems to the parties, to third parties and to the court itself, and family relationship problems. Mark spoke from the perspective of an estate planner whose clients may want protection from disclosure in some cases. they certainly don’t want to be subpoenaed to court in a divorce action.  The committee seems disposed to move the bill even though there may be some issue with the language about civil and criminal penalties for a party’s acting in bad faith. They will return to S. 31 on Friday, February 1st in hopes of marking it up and voting it out. If any of you have concerns that this bill “goes too far” please let me know ASAP so I can get you before the committee next Friday. I’ll be cutting this paragraph and sending it out to both the Family Law and Probate and Estate Section list serves.

Finally, on a non legislative front, the VBA Board is looking into developing a protocol for dealing with the “medium” sized case, whether you define that at $50K or $75K or some other number. The Board is setting up a study committee to begin discussing how best to handle these types of cases to move them through the system at an affordable cost and timeline for litigants. Please let me know if you have any input on this topic and/or if you want to be involved in the working group.

As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

You have probably already read about the shakeup in committee chairmanships and assignments in the Vermont Senate. Dick Sears will remain as Chair of Judiciary but there are two new members - Joe Benning and Tim Ashe - replacing Diane Snelling and long time member Ann Cummings. In Appropriations, Sally Fox will replace Vince Illuzzi so at least one member of that committee will be a lawyer. The full list of committee memberships can be found in the Journal of the Senate dated January 10.

I sat in on House Judiciary this morning for two sessions. The first was Administrative Judge Amy Davenport briefing the three new members of the committee on the structure of the judicial system. After the committee returned from the floor session the entire committee heard from the Chief Justice, Judge Davenport again, Court Administrator Bob Greemore, and deputy Court Administrator Pat Gabel. All discussed the budget shortfall, the failed case management computer project, laws enacted last year, some issues for committee consideration this year,

Today is a typical opening day for one of the most important committees for our issues. I spend the majority of my time in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. I will be invited soon to give our overview of what the VBA is, what we advocate for (or against) and how we can work together. Of course I’ll report on that when it happens.

Have a great weekend and thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thursday January 10, 2013

Late yesterday just before the Speaker adjourned the House for the day he announced that he was going to appoint “non standing” committees as soon as possible. Although he didn’t specify I hope he was including the Judicial Retention Committee and the Judicial Nominating Board. As to the latter, the Bar’s election process is now over and results should be available soon. the Governor has already re-appointed the same two members from last session- Kathy Pellett and Joseph Watson. The House and Senate will now each appoint 3 members.

The Judicial Retention Committee is made up of four members from each chamber. The sooner they get going the better as there are seven judges and one magistrate up for retention. They are:

Superior Judges:

        Cohen, William

        Crucitti, James

        Gerety, Robert

        Griffin, Kevin

        Manley, Kathleen

        Tomasi, Timothy

        Zonay, Thomas



      Zander, Barbara

Tomorrow morning the House Judiciary Committee will host the CJ, the Administrative Judge and the Court Administrator in a judicial branch overview.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wednesday January 9, 2013 Part 2

The House just recessed its morning session after the Speaker made his committee assignments. The House Appropriations Committee remains virtually unchanged from last year with Peter Fagan replacing retired representative Joe Acinapura. The House Judiciary Committee, the most important committee for us, will have three new members. Here’s its lineup:

Bill Lippert, Chair

Maxine Grad, Vice Chair

Tom Koch, Ranking Member

Chip Conquest (new)

Andy Donaghy

Michelle Fay (new)

Charles Goodwin (new)

Richard Marek

Vicki Strong

Linda Waite-Simpson

Suzi Wizowaty

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

So the session starts today with mostly ceremony as the House elects its Speaker and House and Senate members are sworn in. Since there is no leadership contest in either chamber, committee assignments could quickly follow. Then the work of the session will begin. But even though the gavel has yet to fall, the legislature’s website has been listing bills for introduction. Among those, as of this morning, are two of interest if perhaps only to members engaged in a property law practice.

The first, H.3, proposes to repeal the requirement that an applicant for a potable water supply or wastewater permit notify affected property owners when an isolation distance surrounding the applicant’s proposed water supply or wastewater system extends onto property other than the property on which the proposed system will be located.


H. 7 proposes to give unit owners of common interest communities the ability to demand arbitration to challenge provisions, application, or enforcement of bylaws or rules of a governing association.


I don’t know the motivation for either bill but am confident that H. 7 introduced by House Judiciary Chair Bill Lippert will certainly get a hearing.


After the constitutional officers are sworn in tomorrow and the Governor gives his inaugural remarks the committees will get down to work. I’ll continue to update you as things unfold. As always, thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Chief Justice made a presentation to the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon seeking either a supplemental appropriation of $2 million OR the ability to spread this shortfall out over two fiscal years. The letter reprinted below was given to the committee. It explains the problem and the limitations that the court faces in making even greater changes.

TO: Martha Heath, Chair of House Committee on Appropriations
         Members of House Committee on Appropriations
FROM:  Robert Greemore, CourtAdministrator 
DATE:    January 3, 2013
RE:           FY 2013 Budget Adjustment Request
The Judiciary finished FY 2012 unable to pay about $2 million in obligations. This coupled with an ongoing operational deficit of about $500,000 would leave the Judiciary about $2.5 million short of paying obligations in FY 2013.
The principal reason for the inability to meet all obligations is the fact that the Judiciary did not realize enough employee turnovers to meet the vacancy savings target for FY 2012 by almost $1.5 million.  Also exacerbating the problem was the increase in security costs of $420,000 (more judge bench time contributed to this increase), increased demand for reimbursement of expenses for Guardians ad Litem by $25,000 (a 40% increase in CHINS filings contributed to this increase), increased unemployment compensation costs by $40,000, increased cost in labor negotiations by $25,000 and increased costs in serving papers in relief from abuse and other domestic issues by $12,000.  The vacancy savings rate contained in the FY 2012 budget was set using historical trend levels. This level was not attained probably due to the acceleration of employee turnovers caused by the retirement incentives offered during the restructuring efforts in previous years.
During our restructuring efforts, we reduced the number of employees working in the Judiciary by over 10%. Part of the justification for the size of reduction was the plan to have begun the implementation of case management technology during 2013.  This implementation was not realized.  We are still providing services to litigants in a paper dominated world with 40 fewer employees than we had to accomplish the same work.

As we looked for options to mitigate the problem, we had to eliminate most of the traditional methods to reduce spending.


          Could not increase the number of furlough days since we had reached the maximum days authorized by statute.

          The time to make monetary request of the Legislature had elapsed.

          Layoffs would not have generated the money needed and the number of layoffs that would be needed would approach one third of all existing positions.

Other possible methods to control cost in the Judiciary had been rejected in the restructuring effort such as:

          Closing courts.

          Changing venue requirements.

          Reducing the number of probate judges.


As a result of this analysis, there was no place to reduce spending within the timeframe of FY 2012. We began a hiring freeze reviewing every vacancy before approving a recruitment, but savings from this action will mostly be realized in 2013.

The Supreme Court is reducing spending in FY 2013 to help mitigate the spending issues. The Court has approved spending reductions of about $soo,ooo in FY 2013 which will lead to about $8oo,ooo in FY 2014. The Court has under consideration other actions depending upon budget decisions made during the upcoming Legislative session, but each will reduce staffing, curtailing further the delivery of services to Vermonters.

The Court is requesting $2 million to be included in the FY 2013 Budget Adjustment Act or the ability to manage the budget issue over 2 to 3 fiscal years.  Ifthe latter, then the Court would like the assistance of the Administration and the Legislature to add $1 million in FY2013 budget adjustment and another $1 million over the target in FY2014 budget. This would allow the Judiciary to mitigate the budget issue from FY2012 and use the spending reductions to curb ongoing spending demands to meet budget targets in the future.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy 2013 everyone. Every time I greet someone by saying Happy New Year I am reminded that the beginning of the legislative session is just hours away. The new biennium will begin on Wednesday January 9th, the Wednesday after the first Monday. But just because the new general assembly won’t be sworn in for a week doesn’t mean that work won’t begin until then. The House Appropriations Committee is actually convening later today to open three days of deliberations on the budget adjustment act- the mid term review of the budget year we are now in. As part of those meetings, the committee will hear from our Court Admi9nistrator Bob Greemore on the judiciary’s 2 to 2.5 million dollar budget deficit. I’ll try to get there for his testimony on Thursday at 1 PM and report back to you as soon as I can.

Also tomorrow afternoon, the ad hoc committee formed to look at foreclosure mediation, and what should happen if and when HAMP expires (December 31, 2013) will begin to wrap up over two months of work on a draft bill to be introduced early in the session. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.

A big issue for the VBA this year will be the funding for Vermont Legal Aid. You may not be aware that the Vermont Bar Foundation was forced to reduce its grant to VLA by $200,000! VLA will receive $695,000 instead of the $895,000 it received last year. But this must be seen in light of a loss of federal grant funds that further challenge VLA’s ability to serve some low income clients. The VBA is already working on seeking an increase in the amount of legislative funding VLA receives, which I believe has not increased since 2006. Certainly the state budget will face many challenges in addition to this one in the 2013-2014 biennium. Many of you have already donated to the Access to Justice Campaign and, for that, the VBA thanks you. if you have not yet done so, please do it now. If we are able to reach our goal of $150,000 we’ll be able to put some money back into the Foundation’s general fund coffers which will provide some cushion to the funding cuts that had to be made.

As always thanks for reading. I’ll do my best to keep this blog as up to date as I possibly can over the next four or four and a half months. If you need to want information on anything legislative just let me know. Again, my best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2013.