Monday, November 21, 2016

Constitution Day/Month/Year Success!

Lauri Fisher and Ted Kenney at BFA Fairfax

When lawyers are admitted to the bar, when judges are sworn in and when elected officials take office, they all pledge to uphold the Constitution.  Pledging to uphold the Constitution is of course easier said than done, as interpretations can vary.  But it remains the foundation for our government and for our governance among all those who live in the United States.

The United States has the shortest constitution in the world, and also the longest living Constitution at nearly 230 years.  It has approximately 4,400 words, without amendments and 7,500 with amendments. Compare this to say, the Affordable Care Act which clocks in at over 360,000 words and which covers only one thing, healthcare!  Our Constitution was designed to govern our society in its entirety well into the future, despite its brevity.  The Constitution is our backbone, and our glue, and is responsible for keeping this diverse nation functioning since its founding. While interpretations evolve as society evolves, it is the genius in the checks and balances system created therein that insures freedom, justice, thoughtfulness and equality within our society.

Constitution Day is typically celebrated on September 17th each year to honor the signing of the document on September 17, 1787.  What is less known is that it could as well be celebrated on November 26th, as George Washington established the first national Thanksgiving Day on November 26, 1789 to give thanks for the new Constitution!  Perhaps this Thanksgiving families should include the Constitution among the things they recite as being thankful for as the topic is passed around the dinner table.  Here at the VBA, while we celebrated Constitution Day with an open-to-public presentation by judges on September 21, 2016, we have continued the celebration right through and will continue to honor it in the weeks and months to come.

As part of our Constitution education initiative, the VBA has been handing out pocket constitutions to members who are willing to go to schools, towns or service clubs and give educational presentations about the constitution.    Since September we have given out approximately 2,500 constitutions and have ordered 2,500 more.  The VBA has also provided suggested presentation outlines and materials to those wishing to volunteer.  Here are highlights from some of our members:

·        Caroline Earle spoke at the Barre Rotary and received very positive feedback.  Rotarians found it to be ‘incredibly interesting’ and remarked that they would have listened to the presentation for another hour! They enjoyed the pre-election refresher on the balance of powers and their pocket constitutions.

·          Lauri Fisher and Ted Kenney gave three presentations to 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th graders at BFA Fairfax, reaching nearly 200 students. The students were extremely excited and asked a ton of questions.  The teachers asked them to come back in January!

·          Adrian Otterman presented at the Cornerstone Kids Homeschool Coop which consists of 60 homeschooled kids age K-12. He gave a short presentation on the Constitution and discussed the Bill of Rights.  He discussed the Framers idea of limited government and the checks and balances provided by our 3 branches, encouraging them to read the entire constitution as he believed they liked the presentation. 

·           Lisa Chalidze recounted administering tests to college freshmen where they either watch a Youtube video (typically 1-2 minutes) of, for example, a police shooting, or a controversial protest, or read parts of a court opinion, then take the factual scenario apart almost moment by moment to analyze with reference to the relevant Amendment (Fourth, First, etc.). She can now freeze a video at any point and ask the class: "What amendment are we talking about here?" and they shout out the answer: “Fourth!” or whatever as the case may be.
      Lisa reiterates that she asks each student to write their name in the Constitution and emphasizes: this is "your Constitution", both literally and figuratively. She has distributed 45 copies over the last few months to undergraduates, as well as another 40 or so to students at Rutland High School where she was assisting with a mock trial held at the US District Court in Rutland.

·          Will Baker met with about 18 fifth and sixth graders at Doty Memorial School in Worcester, and handed out Constitutions.  They had a fun and interesting discussion focused more on the bill of rights than the Articles or three branches, which is pretty complex for the age group.

·             Mark Sciarrotta and Jennifer Emens-Butler spoke both to the Orchard Valley Waldorf School 8th graders and the Whitcomb High School 9th graders with a discussion focused on the Amendments and the Judicial branch after the Constitution basics were discussed.  At OVWS, there was a lengthy discussion of T-Shirt cases and the First Amendment regarding dress codes.  The WHS students demonstrated some profound misunderstanding of constitutional protections, so the discussion focused on the First, Second and Fourth Amendments after sharing some basic information regarding laws and the three branches of government generally.

·            Teri Corsones presented to three Social Studies and U.S. History classes at Rutland High School, using a map of the original 13 Colonies (Vermont being noticeably absent!), a map of Vermont to show the importance of the Green Mountain Boys, especially regarding Fort Ticonderoga, Hubbardton and Bennington. She also passed around volumes of Vermont Statutes Annotated to give examples of what the legislative branch does, and volumes of Vermont Reports to show what the judicial branch does. Lastly, she quizzed the students from the U.S. Naturalization Test, to see what of the many questions about the Constitution in that test they could answer after the presentation.

Constitution Day/Week/Month/Year/Decade… will continue as pocket Constitution recipients, Jaime Heins, Meghan Purvee, Timothy Eustace and Emily Wetherell, among others, prepare for their scheduled presentations.  With heightened media coverage over the election season on Constitutional topics such as not convening a hearing for Merrick Garland, the wisdom or usefulness of the electoral college design and the proper distinction between what can be accomplished through executive versus legislative powers, there is no better time to help fulfill our duty to uphold the Constitution by sharing its wisdom! 

Contact the VBA today to pick up some pocket constitutions for distribution and please volunteer to discuss the role of the Constitution in our society in a school or service club near you!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Real Estate Law Day Revisited

So it has come to our attention that many of our members are not on Facebook or Twitter, but nevertheless may, perhaps, want to see some of our event pictures.  Sure, a blog is also social media, but this post is a mere click away from our website, no login required. If I'm playing your tune, this blawg is for YOU!

VBA's Real Estate Law Day was a smashing success with over 200 attendees!  The day started off with some property transfer tax and land gains tax return advice for the new system with Doug Farnham and Elizabeth Hunt from VDOT.  Section Co-Chair Benj Deppman and Realtor Amey Ryan gave a lively presentation about Rights of First Refusal and Options.  When 200 attendees were asked to raise their hands if they liked ROFRs, not a hand was raised!  We also heard from the panel and Jesse Goldfine on P&S Contracts and Co-Chair Jim Knapp recapping the fire marshal meeting.  Finally, after a delicious lunch at the Capitol Plaza, the realtors put on a presentation about the Dodd Frank Act.

Following are some pictures from the event:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Game Changer: Casemaker!

What is something you hardly ever hear during a CLE seminar? A collective, audible “Wow!” from an audience of lawyers.  This actually happened.  Here is the story.

On Friday, I presented a Casemaker update for the Rutland County Bar Association. Surely, the topic wasn’t as tantalizing as the concurrent criminal law or real estate law updates, but it had its fair share of interested parties.  The room was set up with a projector and an active laptop to walk members through the Casemaker site.

In preparation, I spent some time re-familiarizing myself with the platform and checking all the features.  Having tried to use Casemaker at the time of its initial launch, I was the first to assure the members that the service had come a long way and was nothing like Casemaker 1.0 of many years’ past.  We lawyers already have the sinking feeling whenever doing research that we are missing something, and the old Casemaker didn’t do much to allay those fears.

Enter Casemaker Pro. As a VBA member, Casemaker Pro is an automatic benefit of membership.  Before getting into the enhanced features, we spent some time navigating searches and using the modern standard Casemaker platform. What a difference from the initial version! I was able to demonstrate broad and narrow Boolean searches, being logged in under a client name, creating folders and saving cases by a simple drag and drop or copy feature, taking notes to append to a case and choosing how to save or print the notes, going back and seeing all the history that Casemaker automatically saves no matter the time or interruption, auto-correct of misspelled or mis-punctuated reporter names and browsing statutes or other materials.

The libraries are also much more impressive. Casemaker boasts the most current information available for federal cases, federal code, state cases and state statutes, with annotations.  Each category will show you the currency of what you are reading, and will often link to the Act or archived information leading up to the current code.  In the Vermont State materials, you can search cases, statutes, some superior court opinions, the Constitution, Rules, ethics opinions, environmental court decisions, Green Mountain Care Board decisions, Medicaid rules, LRB Decisions and Title Standards, among other things.  Within the search, you can add related federal material with a simple click.  The Federal Materials include bankruptcy opinions, circuit opinions, Court of International Trade, US Code, IRS Revenue Rulings, Internal Revenue Bulletin, Tax Court, NLRB, Federal Register, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and more.

When performing a search, the left side menu will allow you to expand or contract your search by clicking or unclicking various things like the jurisdiction or statutes or cases only.  The search breaks down the number of cases or statutes or State references, allowing you to further narrow.  There is also an option to type further search terms or search just by date or judge. 

All of this is quite wow-worthy, but what about the audible “Wow!?” There were actually a few ‘wows’ spoken that day.  One enhanced feature is Citator.  Each case will have a green thumbs up or a red thumbs down, not unlike Shepard.  Next to that reference will be a number, showing just how many times that case is cited.  By clicking the number or the chart next to it, you can see the date or timeframe of the citing reference and see each individual reference with a hyperlink to the case cite.  The negative treatment citing reference feature will break the reference down into criticized, questioned, overruled, modified and the like, with links to each case containing the negative treatment.  This drew a few “oooh’s”.

Next was the Casemaker Digest.  This feature allows you to set up an email or RSS feed (or simply go to Casemaker) to see the hottest cases in your specific practice area or jurisdiction (or both).  You can set the feed to show you the cases on a particular topic in a particular jurisdiction. The cases are broken down by week and contain summaries of the holding.  A quick demo search revealed several cases sorted by subject and decided within the last day or two.

And last but not least is CiteCheck, the demonstration of which brought out the loudest collective “Wow!”  CiteCheck allows you to upload a brief in pdf or word and Casemaker will check all the cites and give citing references for each. It also allows you to correct partial cites or items that appear to be a cite to have those entered properly and checked.  Each citation will even be hyperlinked to the case cited for a quick but more thorough review of the case.  The demo was seamless!

With legal research software from the ‘big two’ costing approximately $500 per month, the latest version of Casemaker will undoubtedly have you questioning the expense. Casemaker Pro, along with our new online community service, is included in your Vermont Bar Association dues.  Membership DOES have its privileges!  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Battle of Wits!

Below is an excerpt from the Fall Vermont Bar Journal, in The Princess Bride-style.  While our staff has thought of some doozies, we have yet to hear from very many of our resident VBA members' inner comedians, authors, scholars or pranksters.  Failing to submit could be one of the biggest blunders of all time!  Accept the challenge TODAY as time is running out.


During the cover contest period, some of our left-brained attorneys lamented that they wanted to play along but had no artistic talent to speak of.  Well, it’s time to show off your more cerebral side, as we challenge you to a battle of wits!  Montpelier cartoon artist (and lawyer) Kathy Fechter has graciously provided us the above cartoon, which lends itself to seemingly infinite humorous quips.  

Submit yours and see if it makes it past our scrutinizing staff to be included in the Winter Journal.  Email your proposed caption for the below cartoon by November 15, 2016 to