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Vermont Supreme Court

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Vermont Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   5
Founded:   1777
Chief:  $
Associates:  $
Judicial selection
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   6 years
Active justices

Paul Reiber  •  John Dooley  •  Marilyn Skoglund  •  Harold Eaton  •  Beth Robinson  •  

Seal of Vermont.png

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:
JudgeTermSelected by
Chief Justice Paul Reiber2003 - presentJim Douglas
Justice John Dooley1987 - presentMadeleine M. Kunin
Justice Marilyn Skoglund1990 - presentHoward Dean
Justice Harold Eaton2014-PresentGov. Peter Shumlin
Justice Beth Robinson2011-PresentGov. Peter Shumlin

Chief justice

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.[1]

Judicial selection

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.[2]

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

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.[3]

Removal of justices


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2012 423 430
2011 480 487
2010 511 489
2009 479 503
2008 503 585
2007 530 571


Notable decisions

The Right to a Speedy Trial

The Vermont Supreme Court has came under scruitny over a recent ruling in which they overturned the assualt conviction of Michael Brillon who sat in jail without bail for nearly three years on assualt charges going through six public defenders before being tried for assault.[5]

What happened was that Brillion needed a public defender to represent himself in court and the case inched along as lawyer after lawyer asked for postponements and eventually withdrew or were replaced at Brillon's request.[5]

The first public defender had an evidentiary hearing postponed because he was moving his law practice. The attorney was fired by Brillon who claimed the lawyer that represented him had failed to communicate with him on a timely basis.[5] The second public defender reported a conflict of interest in the case that prevented him from continuing a day after he'd been appointed which forced the second attorney to represent Brillion to recuse himself from the case.[5] The third public defender representing Brillion quit after telling a judge that Brillon threatened his life during a break in a hearing. Brillon fired the fourth public defender while the fifth representing him resigned citing changes to his contract with the Vermont Public Defender's Office at a time when state budgets were affecting the Vermont Public Defender's Office.[5] The sixth 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 Brillion believed he was a habitual offender with three prior felony convictions.[5]

Brillion after his conviction going through six court-appoiunted attorneys appealed the case to the Vermont Supreme Court in which Brillion appealed the case on the speedy trial claim claming his Sixth Amendment rights were violated of a speedy and fair trial. The Vermont Supreme Court ruled in his favor saying the delays were the fault of the state to provide a public defender in a timely fashion which dismissed his assualt conviction in which Brillion sits free to this date.[5]

The ruling has prompted outrage among victim's rights advocates and other pro-law emforcement organizations because Brillon was freed and for fear that other suspects would take his cue hoping for a similar outcome.

On January 13, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear an appeal from the Vermont Attorney General's Office in which it would be up to the Supreme Court to determine if whether delays caused by public defenders can deprive a criminal defendant of their sixth amendment rights. Moreover, this will determine if whether State Governments can be blamed for such delays because they're the ones who assign and pay the lawyers for indigent defendants.[5]

This ruling will have a lot of impact as right now with the current economic crisis many states are in that are affecting the ability of states to fully fund public defender programs. Many organizations including the National Conference on State Legislatures and the National Governors Association are taking interest in this case as if the ruling goes in favor of Brillion that there could be fears that criminal defendants may "game" on the system of delays in order to be let out free at a time when states facing massive budget shortfalls are having difficulties keeping public defenders.[5]


Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

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.[6]

History of the courts

File:Vermont Supreme Court.JPG
Supreme Court of Vermont in Montpelier

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.[7]

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.[8]

Notable firsts

See also

External links


VermontVermont Supreme CourtVermont Superior CourtsVermont Probate CourtVermont Judicial BureauUnited States District Court for the District of VermontUnited States bankruptcy court, District of VermontUnited States Court of Appeals for the Second CircuitVermont countiesVermont judicial newsVermont judicial electionsJudicial selection in VermontVermontTemplate.jpg