The VBA Legislative Blawg is the law-related blog of Bob Paolini our government relations guru at the VBA. Bob will keep you apprised of the happenings in the Legislature and keep members up-to-date with pressing legal issues affecting the practice of law in Vermont
A couple of things of interest happened yesterday. First,
the Senate Judiciary Committee after three attempts at rewriting S. 31, the
Billings v. Billings fix, came to a unanimous agreement on a strike all bill. I
sent the bill to the Family Law and Probate Law Sections. It can also be read
in today’s Senate Calendar in the Notice section. After floor action the bill
will move to the House where the process will start over. Almost 70 family and
probate practitioners signed a letter to the judiciary committee members asking
for action on the Billings fix. Stay tuned as there is way more to come.
Last night the Judicial Retention Committee met with judges
Gerety, Griffin, Zonay and Magistrate Zander. No, that’s not a misprint. Judge
Griffin was sworn in on January 4th to fill out the remainder of the
term of Judge Zimmerman, which expires on March 31st. It’s the
position that has the 6 year term not the individual. So, he has to be retained
along with Judge Gerety who has been on the bench now for only 2 years. Judge
Zonay was in a similar position as Judge Griffin 6 years ago and is now
standing for his second retention.
Judge Gerety was the first to be interviewed and talked
about how rewarding his work is. Although he was very familiar with the civil
and family dockets while in practice he is working hard at mastering the
criminal docket. In his letter requesting retention he reflected on two things
he wants to improve. He admitted that when the court gets real busy and he
starts to fall behind that he can be “short” with people as the stress builds.
His other concern was the timeliness of some of his written decisions. Although
most of his survey responses were very positive, the negative ones commented on
exactly the two issues he had self identified. The committee appreciated the
introspection and self criticism.
Judge Griffin’s questioning was quick as he discussed the
transition from practice to the bench. BTW, his appointment was confirmed by
the full senate earlier in the day.
Judge Zonay began his presentation by referring to his
earlier retention when he said he took the position “to make a difference” and
that remains his goal every day. He told the committee he took to heart all of
the comments in his surveys grateful, of course, for the positive ones and
learning and growing from the criticisms. There were some comments from GALs
about the judge’s unwillingness to engage or listen to them. He responded that
the law does not allow GALs to speak to certain things and he follows the law. That
prompted Senator Peg Flory to ask Judge Zonay to think about needed changes to
our statutes to clarify a solution.
Finally, the evening ended with the first ever Magistrate
retention hearing. Previous to restructuring in 2010, magistrates (who always
had a 6 year term like judges) had no process. Retention was merely at the
discretion of the governor. Barb Zander told the committee that the five
magistrates are grateful for the opportunity to get feedback and reviews
through the retention process. she’s been a magistrate for thirteen years
working in the Kingdom and in Washington county. She spoke to the impoverished
nature of those counties and the high unemployment in the northeast part of the
state. she had to address a number of negative comments from court staff and
from litigants. Some of the comments said that people felt they didn’t get a fair
hearing; that she can be intense; and, in one case, reduced a court staff
person to tears. She responded of course, saying that she has let the calendar
drive her and failed to think about what people are seeing. But she has begun a
process of correction for the shortcomings that were identified. She is working
with a mentor judge on demeanor issues. She is also going to get some time in a
a courtroom with video capability so she can review her performance on the bench.
Although in the courts she serves she is physically separated from staff, she
will be making an attempt to be more social with them and have more interaction
You will all have a chance to address the committee next Tuesday,
February 26 from 7 to 8:30 PM in the statehouse if you’d like to be heard on
the retention of any of the eight judicial officers. As always, thanks for
Last night the first four judges were interviewed by the
judicial retention committee. The committee heard from Judges Cohen, Crucitti,
Manley and Tomasi. The two hour hearing focused mostly on the anonymous
comments contained in the legislature’s survey of lawyers, court staff and
others. Some judges faced more questioning than others. The committee chair,
Rep. Tom Koch, made it clear that the committee does see the anonymity of those
comments as an issue. But all recognized that judges don’t get the feedback
that could be helpful to them between the retention processes that only occur
every six years. What the committee really looks for are criticisms that repeat
from one six year term to another. For example, Judge Cohen faced a number of
negative comments including that he is indecisive, unclear from the bench,
disorganized, unprepared, and takes too long to issue written decisions. But
for the time in issuing rulings none of those criticisms were present six years
ago. Rep. Koch engaged him in conversation about the MERS cases and praised his
work in researching and issuing those decisions and in his help in passing the
foreclosure mediation bill.
Judge Crucitti’s hearing was the quickest one I can recall,
ending when the chair remarked that his scores were the highest he’d seen. The
judge spoke about substance abuse and his willingness to take some chances and
develop new programming to help defendants overcome that issue.
Judge Manley was next to appear and spoke to her experience
in the three northeast counties where she presides in multi jurisdictional
courts. She remains excited about her work even if it means learning new skills
in dealing with, for example, self represented litigants. There is a different
stress level in those courts where a judge covers three courts at once. She
does enjoy going into a larger county where there may be one or more judges to
consult with. She agrees judicial rotation is good for a judge’s “emotional
health”. Although the domestic docket may be the most stressful, she enjoys the
interactive nature of that docket as well as the juvenile docket. When in
criminal division she enjoys working with jurors. Like Judge Crucitti, she has
grown in the job and feels more comfortable in doing it. She did acknowledge
the accuracy of a comment that she could be short with staff and has begi=un
the address that shortcoming.
The final judge was Judge Tomasi. His background, as many of
you know, included time in a Boston law firm, service as an assistant AG and an
assistant US Attorney. So, as often
happens with our system of judicial selection and assignment, he was assigned
to a multi jurisdictional court and had to learn the domestic and criminal
dockets pretty quickly. He offered that it is difficult for judges to get
feedback and was somewhat taken aback by comments from court staff. Some of the
criticisms of Judge Tomasi are that he needs to take better control of the courtroom
and be more assertive. He acknowledged that the first few years were very
stressful but he’s reached out to more experienced judges for guidance.
I just returned from yet another canceled hearing on S. 31, the
Billings bill. The Senate Judiciary committee is reviewing amendments to S. 77,
the patient control at end of life bill that is up for Senate action this
afternoon. I’m not sure when the committee will return to S. 31.
The judges that will be interviewed on Tuesday,
February 12 are: Judges Cohen, Crucitti, Manley and Tomasi. The others
and Magistrate Zander will meet with the committee on Wednesday, February 20th.
aAso, due to today’s weather the confirmation hearing for Judge Griffin was
cancelled and will take place next week. The schedule for next week is in flux
right now and will not be available until Monday perhaps.
I just returned from a House Judiciary Committee hearing where
Court Administrator Bob Greemore presented some requests from the judicial
branch to the committee. Family division practitioners should be aware that one
of the changes being presented would give the court the authority to revisit
the reduced filing fee paid along with a stipulation. Apparently there is some
track record that, after parties file with a stipulation and pay the reduced
fee, the stip falls apart and the matter becomes contested. In those cases,
with the proposed changes, the court can impose the difference in fees prior to
the issuance of a final order.
The rest of the day will be pretty quiet as many afternoon
committee meetings have been canceled and most legislators from the southern
counties are gone; many in fact left last night. Have a nice weekend; thanks
I had hoped to report on the Senate Judiciary Committee action
on S. 31 but the committee got hung up on two other bills and never got to it. It’s
been delayed until next Tuesday.
Tomorrow the full Senate should pass the budget adjustment
act. The senate version also contains the $2,000,000 the judiciary requested.
In both today’s House and Senate calendars this appeared:
The following bill reporting deadlines are
established for the 2013 session:
(1) From the standing committee of last
reference, excluding the
Committees on Appropriations and Ways and
Means, all House bills must be
reported out of committee on or before
March 15, 2013.
(2) House bills referred pursuant to House
Rule 35a, must be reported out
of the Committees on Appropriations and
Ways and Means on or before March
The following bill reporting deadlines are
established for the 2013 session:
(1) From the standing committee of last
reference (excluding the
Committees on Appropriations and Finance),
all Senate bills must be reported
out of committee on or before March 15,
(2) Senate bills referred pursuant to
Senate Rule 31, must be reported out of
the Committees on Appropriations and
Finance on or before March 22, 2013.
These deadlines may be waived for any bill or committee only by
consent given by the Committee on Rules.
We’re still awaiting the introduction of some
bills, for example, the updated foreclosure mediation bill and now we face a
deadline that’s about a month away! There will either have to be a number of
exemptions or plenty of unfinished work for January 2014!
I need to update the comment I made yesterday about the 5%
surcharge on filing fees. That surcharge is in effect until next year. Although
we’ve referred to it as a three year surcharge stemming from judicial
restructuring in 2010, in fact, the surcharge effective date was delayed into
2011. I apologize for any confusion. Next year the judiciary will be back in
its normal three year rotation to review fees and will recommend extending the surcharge
and build it into the base fee structure.
The retention hearing schedule is starting to firm up. judges
will be in for interviews on two evenings beginning at 5PM. The first hearing
will be next Tuesday, February 5th in the Ethan Allen Room. So far,
Judges Cohen and Manley are confirmed for that night. The second hearing will
be on Thursday, February 20th in room 10. So far only Judge Gerety is
scheduled. I’ll post an update as soon as I have more detail. The public hearing
(which will cover all judges and the magistrate) will be on Tuesday, February
26th also at 5PM. I expect that will be in room 11.
Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee will return to S. 31
and attempt to mark up and vote out the bill. I’ll report back later in the day
tomorrow. As always, thaks for reading.
Friday morning Penny Benelli and Lindsey Huddle appeared before the Senate
Judiciary Committee to voice opposition to S.31. The committee requested that
they suggest amendments or changes to the bill as introduced and get those
changes to legislative counsel by today. I haven’t seen anything yet. the next
hearing on this bill is Thursday. Their objections werethat, in looking at
the history of the family where money was flowing from, say, one set of parents
to the couple that to exclude any of that history would lead to an unfair
outcome. But they concede that third parties should not have to be
subject to discovery of a last will & testaments and revocable trusts.
morning I attended a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee where the Administrative
Judge, the Court Administrator and his deputy presented some legislative
changes. They are seeking a cleanup of some outdated sections on Chapter 17 in
Title 4; an amendment to the USSJEA passed a few years ago; and repealing of a
mandate that probate offices be kept in the four southern districts in which
one of the two courts was closed. This change wouldn’t prevent those offices
from remaining open but would simply remove the mandate and make it optional. The
committee spent some time discussing juror questionnaires and concluded that
any changes were best left to rulemaking.
today the same witnesses will return to discuss fees with the committee. Also,
tomorrow the Ways and Means Committee will hear from the court about fees. I’ve
learned that the court will ask that the 5% surcharge that was imposed on
filing fees as part of judicial restructuring in 2010 be made permanent.