Vermont Supreme Court
|Vermont Supreme Court|
|Method:||Comm. select., Gov. appt.|
The Vermont Supreme Court is the court of last resort for the state of Vermont. The Vermont judicial branch includes seven courts: the Supreme Court, the Superior Court, the District Court, the Family Court, the Probate Court, the Environmental Court and the Vermont Judicial Bureau.
Per a 1913 amendment to the Vermont Constitution, judges of the Supreme Court must be referred to as "justices".The current justices of the court are:
|Chief Justice Paul Reiber||2003 - present||Jim Douglas|
|Justice John Dooley||1987 - present||Madeleine M. Kunin|
|Justice Marilyn Skoglund||1990 - present||Howard Dean|
|Justice Beth Robinson||2011-Present||Gov. Peter Shumlin|
Paul Reiber is the chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court. He was appointed to the court in October of 2003 by Republican Governor James Douglas, and sworn in as Chief Justice in December of the following year.
The court has jurisdiction over final appeals in all cases originating in the state courts and establishes the rules of civil, criminal, family, and appellate procedure. Additionally, the Vermont Supreme Court has the responsibility of administering the court system, must admit all attorneys in the state to practice law, and is the disciplinary authority for judicial officers and attorneys.
The Supreme Court is comprised of five justices: a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices. Justices are chosen via the commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection and serve six-year terms. Justices are chosen via the commission selection method. Candidates are presented to the Governor, who appoints the justice. Justices serve six-year terms, after which they must be retained by a majority vote of the general assembly.
To be considered a qualified candidate to serve on the Vermont Supreme Court, a candidate must be an attorney who has practiced more than five of the last 10 years in Vermont, and must be younger than 70 years old. This is due to the fact that Vermont has a mandatory retirement age at 70.
In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Vermont was given a Campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Vermont received a score of -0.60. Based on the justices selected, Vermont was the 7th most liberal court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.
Removal of justices
| • The right to a speedy trial - Michael Brillon||Click for summary→|
|The Vermont Supreme Court came under scrutiny over a ruling in which they overturned the assault conviction of Michael Brillon, who sat in jail without bail for nearly three years and went through six public defenders before being tried for assault.
Brillon needed a public defender to represent himself in court and the case inched along as lawyer after lawyer asked for postponements, withdrew or were replaced at Brillon's request. The sixth lawyer took the case to trial in 2004 where Brillon was convicted and sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison because the judge who sentenced Brillon believed he was a habitual offender with three prior felony convictions.
Brillon appealed the case to the Vermont Supreme Court, claiming his Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy and fair trial were violated. The court ruled in his favor and dismissed his assault conviction, saying the delays were the fault of the state to provide a public defender in a timely fashion.
The ruling prompted outrage among victim's rights advocates and other pro-law enforcement organizations because Brillon was freed and they feared that other suspects would take his cue hoping for a similar outcome.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States by the Vermont Attorney General's Office. The Court reversed the state court's decision on March 9, 2009, ruling:
In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Vermont earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.
History of the courts
The selection method of justices has changed four times since 1777, when all judges were appointed by the governor with consent of the executive council. In 1786, the system of selecting justices was changed to one in which all judges were elected to one-year terms by the state legislature. In 1870, justices were elected to the court by the state legislature to two-year terms. In 1967, the General Assembly enacted a statute that established a panel to review candidates for judicial vacancies and to provide the Governor with a list of qualified candidates. In 1974, the state's voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the current system, under which a judicial nominating board gives a list of names for appointment to the governor, whose selection must be confirmed by the senate.
The judicial branch in Vermont, including the Supreme Court, has a $32 million annual budget; the state judiciary was originally targeted for $2.4 million in reductions as part of general reductions in the state's budget.
- Homepage of the Vermont Supreme Court
- Vermont Supreme Court published opinions
- Vermont Public Library's opinions page
- Examiner News on Vermont Supreme Court
- VPR News "Lawmakers Approve Supreme Court Judges For Another Term" 03/30/11
- Homepage of the Vermont Supreme Court
- Judicial selection in Vermont
- Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
- Vermont Judiciary, "Court Statistics and Reports"
- "Burlington Free-Press" Speedy Trial to go in front of the Supreme Court of the United States, January 12, 2009
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Legal Information Institute, "Vermont v. Brillon," March 9, 2009
- Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
- Methods of judicial selection in Vermont
- Fox 44, "Vermont courts' reduction seen smaller," December 29, 2008
Denise Johnson • Brian Burgess • Harrie Brigham Chase • Franklin Billings • James Holden • Geoffrey Crawford •