Side judge posts draw three write-in candidates

MIDDLEBURY — There were no takers for two Addison County side-judge positions when the candidates’ filing deadline passed on June 12.
Suddenly, three area residents have confirmed they will wage write-in campaigns during the Aug. 26 primary in an effort to get on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot for the pair of four-year terms.
Former Vermont State Police Sgt. Mark Smith of Middlebury and deputy county Clerk Irene Poole of Ripton announced their write-in campaigns late last month. Then, as the Addison Independent went to press on Friday, Registered Nurse Alice George of Middlebury confirmed that she, too, is joining the field.
Incumbent Addison County Side Judges Frank Broughton and Betsy Gossens have chosen not to run for re-election. Write-in candidates for the posts must each get at least 50 tallies on Aug. 26 in order to move on to the General Election. Will Senning, director of elections with the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office, said the top two write-in candidates for side judge on both the Republican and Democrat ballots will move on to the Nov. 4 ballot. This means that Poole, Smith and George could all make the cut, depending on the write-in combinations from Aug. 26.
The three candidates don’t have to declare a party affiliation at this point, which suits them fine, as they all acknowledge side judges’ duties are non-partisan in nature.
Side judges sit with the presiding judge to hear civil and family court cases in the state’s 14 counties. They also have administrative duties, such as appointing the county clerk, treasurer and auditor, road commissioners, and notaries public. They manage the courthouse and prepare the county budget. They earn a salary for their administrative duties, paid by the county, and a per diem income for their judicial duties, paid by the state.
The Independent last week interviewed both Smith and Poole, who are running separate campaigns. The newspaper will feature a separate story on George later this month, prior to the primary election.
Smith, 65, is a retired Vermont State Police sergeant who worked undercover assignments, as a patrol officer and as a polygrapher. He has provided courthouse security through the Addison County Sheriff’s Department for the past five years. It so happens that Smith’s security work at the courthouse has been on Wednesdays and Thursdays — days when side judges are assisting the presiding judge with cases. He gets many chances to view court proceedings.
“In our job (in security), we run the courtrooms, bring the judges in and out,” Smith said. “A lot of the time, I have to bite my tongue wanting to say something, but that would be inappropriate. As a side judge, I would be asked for my input.”
Smith was raised in Rutland and has lived in Middlebury for around seven years.
He has enjoyed his duties at the courthouse and would now like to see the courtroom from the other side of the bench.
“Being part of the decision making process is something I’d like to do,” Smith said.
He believes he has the right qualifications and personality for the job.
“I’ve always worked well with people and have thought I could get along with just about anyone,” Smith said. “Everyone says I’d be really good at it.”
Smith believes it is important to keep alive Vermont’s tradition of side judges.
“I would hate to see that institution disappear,” Smith said.
Poole, 52, became deputy county clerk in April and works at the courthouse for around eight hours per week. Her main job is as an independent massage therapist, based in downtown Middlebury. She has been a massage therapist for the past 19 years, 17 of which she has spent in Vermont. Poole has resided in Ripton for the past five years, working for a short stint as the assistant town clerk and treasurer.
Poole said it was Gossens who encouraged her to embark on the write-in campaign. The role of side judge intrigues her, and would fit within her schedule.
“It seemed like a good fit,” Poole said
Side judges must do a lot of listening, a skill she has developed as a massage therapist.
“I like listening, and there is an art to listening that I think is sacred,” Poole said.
Like Smith, Poole wants to see Vermont’s side judge system stand the test of time.
“I think it’s a wonderful difference in the court system that (Vermont) has side judges,” Poole said. “It would be sad to see that tradition go. Side judges give continuity to the system.”
It should be noted that Poole and Smith will both quit their current courthouse jobs if elected, because of the side judges’ county budget responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Broughton and Gossens are content to serve out the balance of their respective terms.
Broughton has been a county side judge since 2002. He explained he has enjoyed the work, but would like to free up his schedule for longer vacations during the winter. He said he has enjoyed the civil court cases the most.
“Some of the parts of the job you enjoy; others cause you to wonder if you made the right decision,” Broughton said. “You deliberate quite a while on some of these decisions.”
Asked what he would miss the most, he said, “The camaraderie. There’s a good group at the courthouse.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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