The who's who of the Vermont legal community packed a Burlington courtroom Wednesday. There were no defendants and the judges left their robes behind. It was all about celebrating the honorable Geoffrey Crawford, Vermont's newest member of the Supreme Court.
"You've been a great judge, everybody here know that. You will be a great justice and you're joining a great court," said Jerry O'Neill, a former law partner.
Colleagues and friends took turns highlighting Crawford's wit, intellect, out-of-the-box ideas and practical decision-making.
"We're all looking forward to seeing how these traits manifest themselves as he takes on the responsibilities of a justice, which include the improvement of the administration of justice," Vt. Superior Court Judge Amy Davenport said.
Crawford replaces Justice Brian Burgess who retired earlier this year. Since 2002, Crawford served as a Superior Court judge, presiding over high-profile cases including the trial of Christopher Williams, a man he sentenced to three consecutive life terms for the deadly Essex Elementary School shooting.
Prior to that, Crawford handled civil cases as a partner in the Burlington firm O'Neill Crawford & Green.
Wednesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin swore him in as Vermont's newest justice, a position he will hold for the next six years.
"I would argue the best thing about Judge Crawford is that he has faced extraordinary adversity and come through it with extraordinary compassion and caring," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.
We also learned more about the man behind the gavel and the signature bow tie. He is a husband, a father, a grandfather, an avid cyclist and a talented cook. His friends affectionately refer to him as the King of Paella.
A man who observed his first court proceedings at the age of 14; it was a process that mesmerized him.
"I thought this was like going to church without the burden of faith. I have been interested in this world ever since," Crawford said.
Crawford used his time in front of his captive audience to talk about how the legal system could improve. He said the courts need to move more quickly toward case resolution, invest in drug treatment, avoid what he calls oversentencing the state's criminals and pay more attention to the court staff members, who oftentimes take the lead in guiding defendants through the court process.
"I know my new colleagues have not been waiting patiently for the new guy to arrive to tell them how to do things, but to the extent I get a say, I'll advocate for more training and respect and more responsibility for court staff with increased training the pay will follow," Crawford said.
Crawford will begin serving the Vermont Supreme Court immediately
Four of the five justices on the bench have now been appointed by Democratic governors. Legal analysts we spoke with say this may cause the court to swing slightly to the left. Others say it will remain a moderate court and say Crawford is likely to side with Justice Robinson and potentially Justice Dooley in split decisions. That trend could reverse decisions where Robinson and Dooley were previously in the minority.
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