July 10, 2011 -- Attorney General Bill Sorrell, D-Vermont, joins Darren Perron and Keith McGilvery to discuss Vermont Yankee and Supreme Court cases.
Good morning, everyone, i'm darren perron.
And i'm keith mcgilvery. Vermont attorney general bill sorrell, we'll talk to him about vermont yankees legal battle to keep operating past 2012 and that no yankees will face federal charges.
A new lease on life for an old one-room schoolhouse. Exchange students learning in vermont and teaching students here valuable lessons. We'll spice up your barbecue and take you for a spin in an outhouse, that's all coming up.
But first our news maker, vermont attorney general bill sorrell, the democrat has served as the a.g. For the last 14 years and this week his office released its criminal investigation findings into vermont yankee. Thank you for joining us.
Happy to be here.
You released your criminal investigation this week. What was it that your office was looking for?
Well, we were looking to see the -- clearly vermont yankee personnel had repeatedly talked about this issue of underground piping carrying radioactive materials. And many different situations, they said there weren't any. And then all of a sudden they had a tritium leak they found in january of 2010. Obviously they had underground piping with radioactive materials. And the question was when they made the statements there weren't any of these pipes were they violating our criminal laws.
And what did you find?
Well, we found that they offered incorrect and misleading information a number of times, including a couple of times under oath. But that we just lacked the smoking gun evidence to be able to have enough evidence to convince a vermont jury that they were guilty of criminal conduct. And so we've closed the active phase of our investigation. If we get new evidence that causes us to rethink this we'll do that but right now we don't have enough evidence and it would be unethically responsible for me to charge either any individual or the corporation criminally without more evidence.
A number of vermonters frustrated by that news. You know, what would have smoking gun evidence been? What would you have needed to move forward here?
Well, we interviewed dozens of witnesses, including a number of present employees of vermont yankee. We looked at tens of thousands of pages of documents including internal e-mails, communications with their local counsel and such. And we found some evidence that they were clearly aware that they had offered misleading evidence. Or testimony. Or statements. But we didn't find that where there was collusion of -- and a plan to affirmatively lie. We didn't find any indication that any of the spokespeople, you know, were part of a conspiracy, if you will, to lie to state regulators. I think clearly they were negligent. Clearly the communication levels between engineers and licensing people and government relations folks and everything were not very good. E-mails that should have been sent along weren't. But we couldn't -- we didn't get any witness who told us and we didn't find any document that said let's all get together and lie to the state legislators and to the regulators and others.
What do you think has been -- i know 18 months into this investigation, roughly $100,000, what's been most frustrating for you in all of this?
Well, knowing that they offered misleading, incorrect information, we were concerned that this was a concerted effort by enough individuals at the corporation that it was in violation of our criminal laws. And so that being the case, we wanted to find enough evidence to support that. But on the other hand, under our system of criminal justice, there's a presumption that you're innocent. Somebody in my shoes, it's a weighty responsibility to publicly charge an individual or a company with guilt for a felony, serious criminal conduct. And we just didn't have it and so we complimented vermont yankee for cooperating with us the way that they did, making their people available, waiving attorney/client privilege, turning over documents to us, not making us to go to court to fight to get that. But at the end of the day we didn't have enough evidence and we did the best we could, we took it very seriously and we got a lot on our plate to contend to now.
You considered other charges, it wasn't just personally.
-- not just perjury.
We looked at false claim that doesn't require that the statement be under oath but has other parts of it that are difficult to prove. We just couldn't make it work. Even if we could have brought the charges, the likelihood of obtaining a conviction wasn't there. And in my view unethical for me to charge somebody if i personally didn't think there was enough evidence or isn't enough evidence to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt.
At any point did you feel like you were coming close? Was it a close call at all with any of the charges?
Well, there were some of the e-mails that -- internal e-mails that we hoped that, when we either interviewed the person who wrote the e-mail or one of the recipients of the e-mail, we were hopeful that that would lead to maybe more evidence of other conversations that weren't in written form by e-mail. And we just didn't come up with that. So we -- we had some good leads, and i released a report that -- that showed, you know, sort of an overview of the investigation. And attached a number of vermont yankee internal e-mails. If somebody goes on our office web site, takes the time to just read through that they'll see what we're talking about, where one employee is saying to somebody else, hey, we just testified to this. And we can only be consistent if we interpret this or that piping system to carry only water, or something like that. So obviously they were struggling to show that what they had been saying was in fact true, and they were -- there were several employees who were having trouble making that justification.
Sure mr. Attorney general allow me to quote for just a minute. I spoke with the executive director of the vermont public interest group earlier this week. He says that if energy, the parent company of vermont yankee, is not criminally liable they were monumentally incompetent. Are they?
I said they were untrustworthy here, clearly untrustworthy.
Well, the -- i mean, this is not a win for antientergy. They themselves admit that many of their employees didn't meet the standards of what they expected and they disciplined a bunch of them. They avoided criminal charges but this wasn't a great day for them. It shows that they repeatedly misled state regulators and legislators about matters of great public importance. So no cause for real celebration there. Frankly, they should be ashamed of how they carried on in this and they've got a lot of work to do to get to a point where a majority of vermonters will trust statements coming from that company.
I know entergy is hoping to stay in business through 2012.
I have full support staff working on the huge case. Entergy is saying a law that gives our board, regulatory body a say to keep them licensed beyond march, the end of their 40-year license to operate, vermont's the only state in the union that has such a law, they have sued us saying that that vermont law is unconstitutional because what they contend is that this is an area of -- of law that is reserved exclusively to the federal government. And we say no, we know that we cannot consider radiological safety issues but there are other issues that relate to the licensing or the releasing of a nuclear power plant that are legitimately within the authority of a state. So the case is being tried in federal court here in vermont, we'll have a decision shortly, within the next couple of weeks, on whether an injunction, a preliminary injunction will issue which will prevent us from enforcing our law. We're then going to have a trial this fall in september on the merits of the case, and a decision if not by the end of this calendar year then shortly into 2012. And i think inevitably, one side are on the other will appeal to the appeals court in new york city and ultimately i wouldn't be surprised if it ends up before the u.s. Supreme court.
You, sir, are the attorney general. To vermonters at home watching this sunday who say a misleading untrustworthy company should not be operating here in the green mountain state. What do you tell them?
I'm saying that our state senate voted 26-4 in a bipartisan vote against the relicensing of vermont yankee and we are now all hands on deck, if you will, defending the right of the vermont legislature to have a say on that, and we're trying our best to have vermont law upheld in having the strong will of the senate and i believe of the vermont house of representatives, our elected officials, that have their strong sentiment upheld as legal.
Sir, i know the criminal investigation came at the request of the former governor and others. It's been well over a year. You estimated nearly $100,000 in staff time and hours. Was it worth it?
Certainly it's worth it. These are serious offenses by a prominent company in this state. And, you know, we are investigating old unsolved homicides. We've put at least $100,000 into other cases that have not resulted in criminal charges being filed. And so it's not every case that you get enough evidence to go forward, but you hope you're ultimately gonna get enough evidence if the crime was committed. And so again, as you say, we were asked by the then-governor and the then-president pro tem of the senate who is now our governor and the speaker of the house to conduct this investigation. We took the request for seriously, did our very best, and announced a decision that we did. And i think we did a lot of good, good work and valuable work so that vermonters will know that we took it seriously. And i hope the average vermonter knows if we had found enough evidence to proceed with criminal charges we would be in criminal court today.
Talk to me about where this criminal investigation stands. Is it closed for good? What would you consider?
It's the open phase, the active phase of the investigation is over. But similar to, say, a 20-year-old homicide, you know, we're open to new, unexpected evidence coming to our attention. Do i think that's likely? No. But maybe a whistle-blower would come forward, somebody who was in a meeting and can talk about some conversations that went on or something like that. So we would be open to additional evidence coming to usment and if we get credible, compelling, convincing evidence that comes forward, we'll revisit the charging decision. This is not a situation where i say, well, we've got enough evidence to prosecute but i'm declining to prosecute. And it's not the case that every case has to be a certainty before we'll bring it. I've brought tough cases in the past. But ethically i'm not gonna bring a case where i don't think there's enough evidence to convince 12 vermont jurors beyond a reasonable doubt of a defendant's guilt. And when i personally say to myself, if i was on a jury i wouldn't think there was enough evidence there, and so i'm not going to bring a charge without enough evidence to go forward.
Do you think there's more information out there? What's the likelihood that you might --
i think that's unlikely but never say never. You know, we'll see. I'm not -- i'm not thinking that it's a likelihood but there's that possibility. So i don't want to say, gee, if new evidence came before us that we haven't had access to yet that we wouldn't consider it. No, we'd give it serious consideration if it was good, strong, credible evidence.
Vermont attorney general bill sorrell, thanks so much for joining us this sunday.