Crime News

Orwell lawyer appointed to federal judgeship

As a public defender “you just get to meet so many people at so many different stages of their lives and really stand between them and the power of the government.”
— Mary Kay Lanthier in 2016

ORWELL — President Joe Biden has nominated Mary Kay Lanthier, the supervising attorney in the Rutland County Public Defender’s Office, to be the next federal judge for Vermont, the White House announced on Thursday, May 23.

Lanthier, an Orwell resident who has served in her current role since 2007, would succeed Judge Geoffrey Crawford on the federal bench if confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Crawford formally announced last summer his intention to step down this August and move to senior status. In that capacity, he would still preside over cases, but on a more limited basis.

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio on Thursday praised the selection of Lanthier for a seat in the federal bench.

“She’s honestly one of the best and the brightest among us,” he said. “You couldn’t have a more ethical, decent, balanced person.”

Prior to her position in Rutland, Lanthier served as a public defender in the Addison County Public Defender’s Office from 2000 to 2003. She also worked in private practice as an associate and then partner at the firm Marsh & Wagner from 2003 to 2007, and as an associate at Keiner & Dumont from 1998 to 2000.

From 1996 to 1998, Lanthier served as a law clerk for trial court judges in Chittenden and Addison county courts. She received her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law in 1996 and her bachelor’s from Amherst College in 1993.

In an email Thursday, Lanthier said she was “directing all inquiry” to the White House.

Sandra Lee, a public defender based in Burlington, said she had known Lanthier for many years and the two worked together when Lanthier was in private practice in Middlebury.

“Mary Kay Lanthier is one of the most qualified individuals, in my opinion,” she said. “Her broad breadth of experience I think will help her and I know will inform her as a judge.”

U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., announced in a statement last November that together they were organizing a joint Judicial Nomination Advisory Panel to screen candidates and make recommendations to Biden for filling Crawford’s post.

It carries a lifetime appointment.

The two senators issued a joint statement Thursday expressing support for Lathier’s nomination and pledging to help “guide” her nomination through the U.S. Senate.

“As a former public defender,” Welch said, “I look forward to Ms. Lanthier’s public service continuing in this new capacity in the community she calls home.”

In her current job, Lanthier represents indigent clients facing criminal charges ranging from murder to retail theft. She described that work in a 2016 story in Seven Days.

“There’s no better job,” she said at the time. “You just get to meet so many people at so many different stages of their lives and really stand between them and the power of the government.”

Lanthier said, “The bad guys aren’t always bad … You shouldn’t be defined by the worst mistake or worst thing you did.”

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would join U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss on the federal bench from Vermont. Reiss presides in U.S. District Court in Burlington while Lanthier would primarily preside in U.S. District Court in Rutland.

Judge William K. Sessions III continues to serve on senior status, a role he has held since he stepped down from the bench full-time in 2014.

The White House, in a release announcing Lanthier’s nomination and another in Pennsylvania, said the nominations “continue to fulfill” Biden’s “promise to ensure that the nation’s courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country — both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds.”

Biden, in a statement Wednesday, marked the confirmation of the 200th federal judge since he took office in January 2021. According to that statement, 64% of his judicial appointments have been women, and 62% were people of color.

Also, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, more than 40% of the president’s judicial confirmations have been people who were public defenders or civil rights lawyers, or both.

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