MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Supreme Court (VSC) on Oct. 18 will convene for the first time in modern history in Addison County. The five justices will hear six cases and offer local citizens a first-hand glimpse into the workings of the state’s highest tribunal.
The one-day visit next Tuesday is in line with the VSC’s annual custom, initiated around 25 years ago, of occasionally presiding in venues outside of its usual courtroom at 109 State St. in Montpelier. The VSC makes a working visit each spring to the Vermont Law School and a visit each fall to a county courthouse, said Bob Greenmore, Vermont’s court administrator.
Greenmore said the annual visits are intended to promote awareness of the court and demonstrate its accountability to justice and the public.
“If people are curious, they can get out and see what the court does without having to go to Montpelier,” Greenmore said.
Oct. 18 will mark the first time that the Addison County Courthouse in Middlebury will have made it into the VSC’s traveling rotation — at least in recent memory.
“It is the first time in my lifetime, in practice for over 50 years,” said Middlebury attorney Peter Langrock, who will be arguing one of the six cases to appear on the court’s Oct. 18 docket.
Langrock could not say absolutely the VSC had never been in Middlebury, but said any earlier appearance would date far back.
“Maybe in early colonial days when the court sat around the state, but in modern times, this is the first time that it has come here, I’m sure,” he said.
Court officials are busily preparing the courthouse to receive the VSC on Tuesday. The justices come at a time when the courthouse is going through some major remodeling to accommodate the recent consolidation of court offices. Workers on Tuesday were busy installing and painting interior walls for new office spaces.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Addison County Superior Court Clerk Jo LaMarche said, while adding, “It’s a honor to have them here, and I am thrilled.”
Plans call for the justices to be headquartered in the first-floor jury room and preside in the first-floor courtroom. The justices’ law clerks will set up shop in the second-floor jury room. The entire courthouse has been made WiFi accessible to better accommodate both the VSC’s functions and future operations within the building.
Vermont Superior Court Judge Helen Toor will temporarily relocate her activities to the second-floor courtroom while the VSC is in session.
LaMarche confirmed courthouse security will be beefed up while the VSC is in town: People planning on watching the court in action should avoid bringing backpacks or other items requiring intensive inspection.
Court administrators are encouraging people to observe the VSC as it works its way through its six-case docket. The court will spend 30 minutes on each case (beginning at 9:30 a.m.), with plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel each given 15 minutes. The court will already have received written testimony and other supporting documents on each case.
Cases scheduled for review include:
• State of Vermont vs. Jennifer Wyrocki. This is a disturbing the peace case. One of Wyrocki’s attorneys is Addison County Public Defender Jerry Schwarz.
• Co-operative Insurance Co. vs. Denise Woodward and James Bennett, individually and as administrator for the estate of Brooke Bennett. The question in this civil case, according to court documents, centers on whether “the appellant’s homeowner’s policy provides coverage in an underlying lawsuit which alleges that she negligently failed to protect her niece, Brooke Bennett, from her husband (Michael Jacques), who is alleged to have sexually assaulted, injured and killed Brooke Bennett.”
• State of Vermont vs. Richard Chaplin. The court is being asked to determine whether investigators had probable cause for a search in a burglary case.
• State of Vermont vs. Ali M. Abdi. The court is being asked whether “extraneous information brought into the jury’s deliberations” had the capacity to affect the verdict in a trial involving the sexual assault of a child, and if so, whether a mistrial should have been granted.
• Laurie Wilson vs. Craig Wilson. The court is being asked whether a trial court “erred in a ruling that there can be no modification of the division of property in a final divorce decree as a matter of law.” Langrock is representing Laurie Wilson in this case, while local attorney Andrew Jackson is representing Craig Wilson.
• John O’Connor vs. Thomas J. Donovan Jr. The court is being asked whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the pleadings in a harassment/employment case.
Greenmore said Elderly Services of Addison County clients, Middlebury College and area high school students, and local legislators are among those who have been invited to witness the Middlebury proceedings. The courtroom has capacity to seat about 65 people, according to LaMarche.
“I’m excited to have (the justices) come and to be a part of that day,” LaMarche said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]