VBA Blawg is the official law blog of the Vermont Bar Association. Under the pen of Bob Paolini, Executive Director of the VBA, VBA Blawg contains regular updates on legislative developments in the Vermont State House, as well as information on commissions, study groups, and others whose work will have an impact on the practice of law in Vermont. VBA Blawg also contains the latest information on VBA activities and programs.
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.
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