Questions of transparency raised over Vermont impeachment investigation

Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 5:51 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2023 at 7:37 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The special committee investigating whether to recommend the impeachment of two Franklin County officials has wrapped up its second week of work, and much of the testimony has been behind closed doors.

They are deciding whether or not to impeach State’s Attorney John Lavoie and Sheriff John Grismore.

They say they are meeting in executive session to make sure the investigation and its findings are airtight and factually sound.

“It’s the equivalent of a prosecutor or a grand jury deciding whether to bring an indictment,” said Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington.

State’s Attorney Lavoie is accused of repeatedly using inappropriate language toward employees. Sheriff Grismore is facing a criminal probe from an incident where he kicked a detained man.

The committee recently approved rules allowing much of the testimony to happen in executive session. But some, including the Vermont Press Association and the Vermont Association of Broadcasters, of which WCAX News is a member, asked lawmakers to pull back the curtain.

“This is about removing an official that the people have elected and the most important thing you can do in a democracy is elect your representatives because it’s so important for our democracy, it’s important that every step be out in the public,” said Matt Byrne, the lawyer for the Vermont Press Association.

The chair of the committee says there is precedent in Vermont and in other states for holding some hearings in executive session.

“There could be personnel documents, financial documents, identification of witnesses and victims in an investigation stage you don’t want to have out there. It could impact whether the investigation is thorough and fair,” LaLonde said.

LaLonde adds that once the investigation is complete, lawmakers will publish the results to the public.

If House lawmakers move forward with impeachment, those proceedings and a potential trial in the Senate will be conducted in the public.

In the meantime, the committee has also hired lawyer Rich Cassidy of South Burlington to assist with the Lavoie investigation.

This is just the beginning of the investigation into Grismore and Lavoie and there’s no clear timeline on when it may wrap up.

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