Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014


So, we’re already at the Town Meeting break; the general assembly returns on Tuesday, March 11th. Crossover is that Friday the 14th; that means a hectic week in committees to get bills out. I will not be here that week as I’ll be attending the Bar Leadership Institute at the ABA in Chicago; I hope it warms up out there by then.
This week was pretty busy too as they move towards the break. The judicial retention process wrapped un on Wednesday evening with unanimous votes to retain all six Superior Judges. The joint assembly to vote on retention will be held in the third week of March. Again, I spent most of my time in the House Judiciary Committee as they moved towards completing work on a number of bills I have been following, have testified on, or some of you have testified on. They are H. 413, the uniform collateral consequences of conviction bill; H. 642, the bill eliminating a right jury trial for traffic appeals; H. 618, the juvenile jurisdiction bill for 16 and 17 year olds charged with crimes; and H. 866, a bill dealing with judicial nominating. This was just introduced and is now in the committee for review and possible action by March 14th. It makes some minor changes to the nominating process and a couple significant ones. First, it would raise the standard to “best “qualified in order for a candidate’s name to go to the governor. It would also add judicial bureau hearing officers to the people that must go through the judicial board nominating process.
Some of you may remember a group the VBA Board created some years ago to work on judicial qualifications. The committee recommended a “well qualified” standard and did some work on redefining the qualifications presently in the statute. Well this bill incorporates those definitions and uses “best qualified” instead of “well”. The VBA has always supported these changes. I was there for the discussion and, since I will be at the ABA when the committee plans to discuss the bill, I testified in support of that and other parts of it. The VBA Board has not taken a position on the question of whether judicial bureau hearing officers need to go through the JNB process; the committee chair thinks they should, in keeping with the spirit of a “unified judiciary”.
The Senate has passed H. 263, the bill that would authorize assistant judges to sit with magistrates in child support contempt proceedings. Also, the House passed H. 497 relating to the open meeting law. It may be interesting to look at Section 3, amending 1 VSA 313(b). It reads:
(b) A public body may not hold an executive session except to consider one or more of the following:
(10) After making a specific finding that premature general public knowledge would place the public body or a person involved at a substantial disadvantage:
(A) Contracts;
(B) Labor relations agreements with employees;
(C) Arbitration or mediation;
(D) Grievances, other than tax grievances; or
(E) Professional legal advice in connection with pending or imminent civil litigation or a prosecution, to which the public body is or may be a party.
Of course I eliminated #s 1-9 as I wanted to direct your attention to #10. Query: is there a good reason to limit legal advice to a pending or imminent action? Would the public body in any other time then be subject to discussions with counsel in an open meeting? We’ll see where this goes when the Senate takes it up after crossover.
Other than working with Eric Avildsen of Vermont Legal Aid on his budget issues and helping out the federal judicial nominating  commission, that’s pretty much been my week. Thanks for reading. I’ll be reporting again the week of March 18.


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