New state’s attorney learning ropes quickly
MIDDLEBURY — Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster has probably packed around a year’s worth of work into his first six months on the job.
It’s been a compressed timeframe during which he’s put in a series of 12-hour days prosecuting three trials while assessing evidence in scores of other cases. In his “spare time,” he’s been getting his family settled in Weybridge while becoming acquainted with the many court officials, law enforcement personnel, victims’ advocates and other professionals with whom he must network in his job.
“I’m loving it,” Fenster said on Tuesday said in assessing his time as the county prosecutor. “Every day is a different challenge. It presents some of the most intellectually challenging and stimulating issues you can deal with as a lawyer. It provides an opportunity to work on some of the big issues, in terms of search and seizure and criminal justice. You get to work with all kinds of people, both in the law enforcement community and the general community, and work with the schools.”
Fenster was picked by Gov. James Douglas from a list of four applicants for Addison County’s top prosecutor job, vacated last August by longtime State’s Attorney John Quinn.
Fenster had for the previous four years been in private law practice with the firm Barr, Sternberg, Moss, Lawrence, Silver, Saltonstall & Fenster P.C. in Bennington. Prior to that, he had served as Bennington County’s deputy state’s attorney for more than 11 years. Fenster earned his B.A. in political science from the University of Vermont and earned his J.D. degree from Cardozo School of Law in New York City.
Fenster enjoyed his time in private practice, but yearned for a return to the job of prosecutor.
He said he has not been disappointed with his decision.
“You get to have an impact on people’s lives and hopefully make a positive impact — whether they be victims of crime or offenders who are struggling with addiction, or students dealing with truancy issues,” Fenster said. “It’s just a great job.”
It is a job that has seen Fenster meet many new faces, but confront many of the same issues he encountered as a deputy prosecutor in Bennington County.
“We consistently see a lot of driving under the influence cases,” Fenster said. “DUI is a serious issue in Addison County, as it is in the rest of the state.”
The county court docket has also been featuring a hefty dose of domestic violence cases, Fenster noted. Fortunately, Addison County received a grant to finance a part-time deputy prosecutor (Teri Ames) who is dedicated to domestic violence cases.
Also of great concern are drug-related cases, including the abuse and illegal use of prescription drugs. The county also sees its fair share of thefts, vandalisms and other property-related crimes, according to Fenster.
All of this has kept the new state’s attorney and his staff very busy. Fenster typically arrives at work at 5:45 a.m. and heads home at around 5:30 p.m.
“There is always work to be done, cases to review, discovery to exchange,” said Fenster, who has personally earned convictions in two misdemeanor jury trials since he has been in office. A felony aggravated assault trial involving a Goshen man last week ended with a hung jury. Fenster may elect to re-try that case.
Fenster directs an office with four other staff, including Deputy State’s Attorney Chris Perkett, whom Fenster called “a very good, hard-working lawyer.”
It’s an active office, which — due to state budget constraints — lost a secretarial position shortly before Fenster arrived. In addition, the state last year imposed furloughs and cuts at courthouses throughout Vermont in an effort to plug a shortfall in the judiciary budget.
“Resources are always an issue,” Fenster said, but added, “we are managing to keep up on our cases.”
His job is making him an early riser, but he’s happy to do it.
“You wake up every morning feeling like you can make a difference,” Fenster said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].