Is governor's controversial land deal turning political? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Is governor's controversial land deal turning political?

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Jeremy Dodge Jeremy Dodge
Brady Toensing Brady Toensing

Jerry Dodge broke his silence over selling his land to his neighbor, Governor Peter Shumlin, last month, telling WCAX News he didn't understand the deal. Shumlin scrawled the terms on a folder, buying the 16 acres and home in East Montpelier for $58,000. Dodge was facing a tax sale and did not have a lawyer, even though the governor encouraged him to get one.

"I was definitely outgunned," Dodge told WCAX in May. "You know, he's got millions or whatever he's got and I had nothing."

After Dodge went public, the governor agreed to renegotiate. The governor hired M. Jerome Diamond, a well-known lawyer and former Democratic Vermont attorney general. Diamond told us the governor is willing to reverse the controversial land deal if he's reimbursed for money already spent on home repairs, back taxes and delinquent child support.

Dodge wanted a lawyer to help with the new land deal. He earns about $8,000 a year and tried to get help from Legal Aid, but the advocate for low-income Vermonters declined-- news that prompted a lawyer with strong Republican ties to take Dodge's case. Brady Toensing is a high-powered attorney from Charlotte. He defended former Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie against alleged campaign finance violations.

Toensing is traveling out of state and issued this statement: "Mr. Dodge has been dealing with a sophisticated and shrewd businessman. A businessman who is also the most powerful person in Vermont, being represented by one of the best lawyers money can buy. Mr. Dodge clearly needed some help."

Shumlin's lawyer says so far he has not been contacted by any attorney representing Dodge. He issued this statement: "I was glad to learn from press reports today that Jeremy Dodge has retained attorneys. As I made clear last week, the governor is happy to meet Mr. Dodge's request that the property be sold back to Mr. Dodge for what the governor has paid out of pocket."

Political Scientist Eric Davis says these two high-profile lawyers could turn this political.

"The fact that you now have attorneys with political backgrounds representing both of the parties in the case presents the potential that this will become not just a private matter between Peter Shumlin and Jerry Dodge, but a more political matter between Republicans and Democrats as the story develops over the next few weeks," Davis said.

We have not been able to reach the Dodge family. And we have not been able to determine if Dodge is paying for the lawyer. Sometimes attorneys do give free legal advice to clients.

Governor Shumlin is out of state as head of the Democratic Governors Association. In the past, he has referred all questions to his lawyer. No meeting between the two legal teams has yet been set.

Both lawyers are well-known, politically connected and have represented high-power clients and cases. Diamond served three terms as Vermont's attorney general. He then won the Democratic nomination for governor, but lost the general election to Republican Dick Snelling. Diamond's clients include General Motors and Dish TV.

The governor secured a lawyer right away, but Dodge has been looking for weeks to find someone who was willing to represent him and possibly upset an incumbent governor. Toensing has represented clients in a number of congressional investigations, including Clinton White House Pardon issues, Ruby Ridge and Waco. In-state, Toensing made an in-kind donation to Republican Brian Dubie for legal research. Dubie ended up losing his bid for governor to Peter Shumlin.

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