Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

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.

Property lawyers were surprised yesterday when I distributed a bill that would end adverse possession in Vermont. No, I don’t know why. It’s H. 307 and can be read here:

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 with them.

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 reading.



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