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Judge Mark Keller withdraws request to be retained - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Judge Mark Keller withdraws request to be retained

Judge Mark Keller Judge Mark Keller

St. Albans, Vermont - March 18, 2011

"I am withdrawing my request to be retained by the full Legislature," Vt. Superior Court Judge Mark Keller told reporters Friday.

After announcing he will no longer ask the full Vermont House and Senate to let him keep his job, Judge Mark Keller hugged staff members at the court in St. Albans. Several cried, preparing to say goodbye to a judge that served Vermont for 12 years.

"I was determined that Vermonters were going to get action in my court and receive results," Keller said.

A committee of eight lawmakers voted 6-2 Thursday night to suggest their colleagues fire Keller. Judges need legislators' approval to keep their jobs for 6-year terms. Panel members called it an extremely difficult vote.

"All his defenders send us letters recognizing he has demeanor problems," said Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre Town at the hearing Thursday.

Most of their discussion focused on complaints against Keller-- some anonymous-- that he can be heavy-handed or short-tempered. The committee praised Keller's caring, intelligence and approach to the law, but said his attitude doesn't seem to have changed since his last renewal. Keller said the criticism is way off-base.

"I believe that the hard working, well prepared lawyers, of which there are many, had no complaints with my demeanor. The few lawyers that came to my courtroom unprepared, wasting their client's money, the court's resources, and ultimately the taxpayers' money, did have a problem," the judge said.

"I think this is setting a really terrible precedent for judicial retention in Vermont," said Jim Pelkey, a civil court administrator in Franklin County and a former defense attorney.

Pelkey says judges often need to raise their voice to take control of courtrooms that can get unwieldy.

"I'm really afraid we're going to have judges that are too afraid to speak up for justice in the state, and that's my concern," Pelkey said.

"It's the nature of the adversarial system," Franklin County Prosecutor Jim Hughes said.

Hughes says the very nature of court can leave whoever's on the losing end angry. Jim Hughes wonders if those angry people were more driven to speak out against Keller throughout the process than the judge's supporters.

"Complacent people who think there was a fair deal don't always get up and raise their voice," Hughes said.

Judge Keller said he disagrees with the committee's decision but accepts it. He thanked his backers.

"It has been an honor to serve the people of Vermont," Keller said.

In his announcement Friday Keller never used the words "retire" or "resign." He did not take any questions from reporters after reading his statement. So it's unclear what he's going to do next, but his current term expires April 1. We also don't know exactly what this means for the court in St. Albans, which is one of the busiest in the entire state. The state's attorney said he expects a lot of current cases will be put on hold-- ironically, creating a backlog, which is one problem Judge Mark Keller prided himself on helping to fix.

Jack Thurston - WCAX News

Related Story:

Panel votes to fire Vermont judge

The full statement from Judge Mark Keller:

"Although I disagree with the final results, I accept the decision of the legislative committee and have notified the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate that I am withdrawing my request to be retained by the full Legislature.

Many members of the public and many lawyers supported me and voiced their opinions to the Legislature and to the committee. I am profoundly thankful for their support.

I have been involved in the court system for 35 years. Through my career as the Chittenden County State's Attorney and then in private practice I was frequently frustrated by the pace of the court system and the effect that continuances, non-action and delayed decisions had on litigants and victims of crime.

When I came to the bench I vowed not to be a judge who put cases off to another day; I was not going to contribute to the anxiety and uncertainty by inaction and taking the easy course. I was determined that Vermonters were going to get action in my court and receive results.

Much has been said about my demeanor. I believe that the hard working, well prepared lawyers, of which there are many, had no complaints with my demeanor. The few lawyers that came to my courtroom unprepared, wasting their client's money, the court's resources, and ultimately the taxpayers' money, did have a problem.

I am very proud of my nearly 12 years as a judge. It has been an honor to serve the people of Vermont."

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