Vermont's Senate and House of Representatives gathered in a joint session Wednesday, voting on whether 14 of the state's judges should stay on the bench. Lawmakers have to approve new terms for judges every 6 years, unlike some other states, where judges are elected by popular vote.
"This is a better process than judges out there raising money and campaigning on the streets," said Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor County.
One judge was conspicuously absent from discussion. Judge Mark Keller, now assigned to Franklin County, withdrew from the retention process earlier this month after a committee recommended the joint session not keep him.
"When it came to the bench, I vowed not to be a judge who put off cases to another day," Keller told WCAX News on March 18.
Keller said then the criticism of his demeanor came mostly from lawyers who were unprepared and wasting their clients' and taxpayers' money, suggesting they deserved scorn. The committee had no complaint with Keller's intelligence or handling of law, but found him gruff and short-tempered in the courtroom.
Supporters worry a vocal minority was given too much credibility when they testified and turned in anonymous surveys. "I heard from a number of constituents late in the process and after the fact of their strong support for Judge Keller," said Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin County. "But not all of that got to the committee. I think there are many people who wanted to participate in the process once they knew where the process was headed, but they didn't do so in time."
"Is every process perfect? No," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont. "But is it serving us well? I think overall, it is."
Shumlin stands by the judicial retention process, saying it's so rare that any judge is removed from the bench, that's proof that lawmakers study the facts and take their work seriously. They do not rush to judgment on the judges, Shumlin and Nitka said.
While Keller was not voted on, nine other Superior Court judges were approved, along with the full Vermont Supreme Court. Here is a list of the judges given the thumbs-up for new terms, and the breakdown of the yes and no votes:
Vermont Supreme Court Justices:
Chief Justice Paul Reiber: 156-1
Justice John Dooley: 128-31
Justice Denise Johnson: 146-11
Justice Marilyn Skoglund: 149-7
Justice Brian Burgess: 155-1
Vermont Superior Court Judges:
Judge Robert Bent: 149-6
Judge Cortland Corsones: 155-1
Judge Thomas Devine: 151-5
Judge Theresa DiMauro: 151-4
Judge Harold Eaton: 154-2
Judge Michael Kupersmith: 133-22
Judge Linda Levitt: 146-7
Judge Gregory Rainville: 151-2
Judge John Wesley: 147-8
This was a long process for the recommending committee and the full House and Senate, because of the number of judges up for retention this year: 15. Next year should be easier, because only two judges' terms are expiring.
Judge Mark Keller will stay on the bench after his term expires, until a replacement is found.
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