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Grand Isle state’s attorney blasts court system over restricted access hours

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 12:32 PM EDT
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NORTH HERO, Vt. (WCAX) - The Grand Isle County state’s attorney says the state’s court administrator is violating the Vermont Constitution after cutting opening hours for the public to just two days a week earlier this summer.

If you knock on the Grand Isle County Courthouse doors on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, you’ll get no answer.

“It’s unconscionable,” said Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito. “Now, only on Tuesdays and Thursdays can anybody access justice in person in Grand Isle.”

He claims that’s a violation of the Vermont judiciary’s rules of civil procedure. Members of the public need access to the courthouse for activities including picking up forms, filing paperwork, or claiming a copy of their will, but DiSabito says the reduced hours don’t just inconvenience his constituents, it endangers their lives. That’s because this is also where domestic violence survivors apply for relief from abuse orders.

“Imagine if you’re fleeing from an abuser -- you have this one window of opportunity to get protection, and you can’t,” DiSabito said.

The Vermont Supreme Court cites a lack of security as the reason the court is not open five days a week. The Grand Isle County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t have the resources to station a deputy there.

“Would we prefer to have the courthouse doors open five days a week as we used to? Of course we would, but we’re not in the position to be able to do that,” said Chief Superior Judge Brian Grearson, who oversees security for the state’s courts. He says Grand Isle isn’t alone and that courthouses in Orleans, Orange, and Windsor Counties -- three of out of a total of 23 total -- are impacted by the law enforcement challenges. “This is not a way of targetting Grand Isle.”

When asked about addressing the situation during a press conference in early September, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, echoed that the shortage is creating a ripple effect on the state’s courts.

“I do believe it’s about work force and the challenges that every sector in the state is facing,” Scott said. “This is something the legislature will have to work out and see if there’s more money available.”

In the meantime, Grearson says parties can still file paperwork electronically 24/7. Those without internet access must travel to the Franklin County Courthouse in Saint Albans. Residents can also call the Grand Isle phone number and the call is re-routed.

“The courts seem to turn a blind eye and say this is the best we got -- that’s not good enough,” DiSabito said. He has proposed that the state hire unarmed security so the building is staffed, but Grearson says that goes against policy.

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