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Friday, November 16, 2018

Supreme Court Orders New Trial for Former Senator Norm McAllister

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 3:10 PM

Norm McAllister in court - FILE: POOL PHOTO/GREGORY J. LAMOUREUX/COUNTY COURIER
  • File: Pool Photo/Gregory J. Lamoureux/County Courier
  • Norm McAllister in court
The Vermont Supreme Court has ordered a new trial on a charge that former state senator Norm McAllister engaged in a prostitution scheme with a woman living on his farm.

The court said Judge Martin Maley made two mistakes in McAllister’s trial: He allowed jurors to consider separate sex-for-rent allegations for which McAllister was never convicted, and he improperly told the jury to ignore statements by McAllister’s accuser.

McAllister was convicted in July 2017 of one misdemeanor count of procuring a person for the purpose of prostitution. He was acquitted of a second count, and also of a felony sexual assault charge. It was the second trial involving allegations that led to McAllister’s 2015 arrest at the Statehouse. He was accused of sex-related crimes against multiple women.

The state dropped its charges in the first trial after the key witness allegedly lied under oath.

McAllister escaped a felony sexual assault conviction in his second trial, and now the prostitution conviction has been thrown out pending a new trial.

The written decision says that Maley told attorneys before the trial that separate sex crime allegations against McAllister should not be introduced because jurors were only evaluating the specific allegations related to one accuser.

During the trial, the justices wrote, Maley made the mistake of allowing prosecutors to admit evidence involving a different woman. “We conclude the admission of the alleged prior bad act evidence was an abuse of discretion,” the decision says.

Separately, Maley told jurors to ignore testimony from McAllister’s accuser in which she said, “I did it with a guy before for money.”

Judge Martin Maley - FILE: POOL PHOTO/GREGORY J. LAMOUREUX/COUNTY COURIER
  • File: Pool Photo/Gregory J. Lamoureux/County Courier
  • Judge Martin Maley
McAllister’s attorney, Bob Katims, said that mistake was central to his client’s conviction.

“[The jury] basically said they didn’t have a decision and then all of a sudden they had a question and once the question got answered they had a verdict,” Katims said. He said that if Franklin County prosecutors decide to move forward with a new trial, he’ll fight it.

“We’d be filing a motion to dismiss the charge. There’s a mechanism to file a motion to — it’s not a legal term, but ‘enough is enough,’” Katims said.

“He’s now been brought to trial twice. It was dismissed in one place; he was acquitted of two out of three charges the second time,” Katims said. “He certainly has suffered greatly from this in that he lost his seat in the legislature… He’s been on probation for the last year.”

A woman who answered the phone at the Franklin County state's attorney's office on Friday afternoon said nobody was available to comment.

Read the full decision here:

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Court-Appointed Receiver to Manage a Fourth Senior Living Facility

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2018 at 2:28 PM

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living Commissioner Monica Hutt - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living Commissioner Monica Hutt
A receiver already appointed by a court to manage three senior living facilities will take on a fourth owned by the same Dallas-based investor.

Douglas Wolinsky will temporarily manage the Homestead at Harborview in St. Albans. Since last week, he has been overseeing the three other properties: the Homestead at Pillsbury in St. Albans and Pillsbury Manor South and Allenwood at Pillsbury, both in South Burlington.

Combined, they house some 200 seniors.

Andrew White, the founder of East Lake Capital Management, which owns the properties, was not present at a Montpelier court hearing Wednesday morning on the merits of the receivership. State officials allege that complaints about his facilities included lack of staffing and adequate food. Residents and their family members had complained that White was not cashing rent checks for months.

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Friday, November 9, 2018

Food Shortage, Money Woes Lead to Takeover of Three Senior Housing Facilities

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2018 at 2:28 PM

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living Commissioner Monica Hutt - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living Commissioner Monica Hutt
A court-appointed receiver has assumed control of three residential facilities that serve the elderly in Chittenden and Franklin counties after food shortages and financial problems caused concerns about residents’ health and safety, state officials announced Friday.

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said Allenwood at Pillsbury Manor and Pillsbury Manor South, both in South Burlington, and Homestead at Pillsbury in St. Albans were in control of a receiver tasked with stabilizing the homes’ finances and keeping them open.

“When you talk about running out of food, that’s when you gotta step in and protect people,” Donovan said. “And that’s what we did.”

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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Hundreds Rally in Burlington to Protect Mueller From Trump

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 8:19 PM

Marchers in downtown Burlington - SOPHIE MACMILLAN
  • Sophie MacMillan
  • Marchers in downtown Burlington
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Burlington Thursday evening to protest President Donald Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The event was one of 11 "Nobody Is Above the Law" protests across Vermont, organized to pressure Congress into protecting the independence and integrity of the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Protesters chanted, "Two, four, six, eight, we want Mueller to investigate," and "Let Bob do his job," as they marched a winding route through downtown Burlington. Police escorted the protest, which blocked rush hour traffic. Some drivers honked in support of the demonstrators as they passed.
As the hundreds of sign-waving protesters massed outside Burlington City Hall, staffers for Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) all read statements from their respective bosses.

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Welch Won't Commit to Backing Pelosi for U.S. House Speaker

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 6:01 PM

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and his wife, Public Utility Commissioner Margaret Cheney, at an election night party at the Hilton Burlington - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and his wife, Public Utility Commissioner Margaret Cheney, at an election night party at the Hilton Burlington
Vermont's sole delegate to the U.S. House says he hasn't decided who should serve as its next speaker.

In an interview Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) would not say whether Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should reclaim the speaker's gavel. Welch said he had not committed, publicly or privately, to back Pelosi or any potential challenger.

"At this point, what I want is to make certain we get some reforms [to the legislative process] that'll apply whoever is speaker," he said.

Pelosi, the only declared candidate, served as speaker during Welch's first two terms in office, from 2007 through 2010. Now that Democrats are poised to control the House for the first time in eight years, she is hoping to return to the post.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Leahy, Welch Say Acting AG Should Recuse Himself From Mueller Probe

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 7:43 PM

Rep. Peter Welch - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Rep. Peter Welch
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) shed no tears when President Donald Trump announced Attorney General Jeff Sessions' departure Wednesday afternoon.

"Good riddance!" Welch said. "This guy is the worst attorney general in my lifetime. I mean, he's the enforcer of family separation, condones voter suppression, the Muslim ban. This guy's absolutely awful."

But Welch, who won his seventh term in Congress the day before, does have one fear: "President Trump is pretty good at finding bad people, and he might replace [Sessions] with somebody that's worse."

For now, Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, will serve as acting attorney general, according to the White House. He will oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and allegations of obstruction of justice by the president and his associates.

That has Welch and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) worried, because Whitaker has supported defunding the investigation and limiting its scope. Both men said Wednesday that Whitaker should steer clear of the Mueller probe.

"I am strongly in favor of him recusing himself," Welch said. "It would be a way of him providing more reassurance that they're not going to mess with Mueller."

Vermont's third member of Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), did not respond to an interview request.

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He Couldn't Lose: Bissonnette to Represent Winooski in Vermont House

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 6:18 PM

Clem Bissonnette - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Clem Bissonnette
Most politicians try to win elections. Clem Bissonnette tried not to. But on Tuesday, he won an eighth term in the Vermont House anyway.

By Wednesday afternoon, he decided to embrace the victory after all. Bissonnette announced that he will keep the seat, changing his plan to move out of Winooski this year and retire.

"I told people not to vote for me," 73-year-old Bissonnette explained to Seven Days. "Seeing I still got elected, it seems to me that the people want me to go back to Montpelier."

The Democratic lawmaker won a primary in August. But the next month, he announced his intention to retire to the Northeast Kingdom, where he and his wife, Sharon, had purchased a home. He resigned from the House. He told voters he didn't really want to be on the ballot — but it was too late to remove his name.

If he were not willing to serve, Republican Gov. Phil Scott would appoint someone to the seat. Now, that won't happen.

That's a double blow for Hal Colston.

He's the Winooski Democrat who decided to wage a write-in campaign for Bissonnette's seat. Colston, who ran a successful write-in campaign to get on the Winooski City Council in March, didn't manage a repeat this week.

The write-in votes totaled 939, while Bissonnette collected 1,184 votes and incumbent Rep. Diana González (P/D-Winooski) received 1,824 votes.

That tally gave González and Bissonnette return tickets to Montpelier — even though political observers assumed Bissonnette would decline the trip.

Colston said Wednesday that he had hoped, if he failed at the polls, to be considered for an appointment to the seat. Now that's not an option. But Colston still wants to go to Montpelier. "I'm interested in serving and I'll be running in the next election, on the ballot," Colston said.

Colston said he was pleased with the support he got as a write-in candidate. "I'm not feeling too shabby," he said.

"I wish him well," he said of Bissonnette.
Hal Colston - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Hal Colston
The change of heart for Bissonnette came as the results filtered in Tuesday night.

"I did not campaign," he said. "I did not spend a cent on the election. The people still elected me."

He entered local politics in 1970 and has served as city councilor, mayor and legislator for the Onion City.

He and his wife aren't planning to sell their Winooski home until the spring of 2019, Bissonnette said. He might then rent a room in Winooski to finish out his term in the legislature. It's also possible he would resign before the full two years is up, he said.

Bissonnette said he is sure he's heading to the Statehouse in January.

He said, "We're going to Montpelier and we're going to take it day by day.’’

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Vermonters Turn Out in Record Numbers for a Midterm Election

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 5:24 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders votes Tuesday in Burlington - SOPHIE MACMILLAN
  • Sophie MacMillan
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders votes Tuesday in Burlington
Unofficial election results show that Vermont voters turned out Tuesday in record numbers for a midterm election.

According to data from the Secretary of State's Office, about 279,806 Vermonters cast ballots, roughly 57 percent of registered voters in the state.

Before Tuesday, the record high for a Vermont midterm came in 2006, when 262,568 people — 60.56 percent of registered voters at the time — cast ballots in the final midterms of president George W. Bush's tenure.
Secretary of State Jim Condos, who oversees Vermont’s elections, confirmed that 2018 may set a record for the most ballots cast in a midterm, but said the election likely won't set a record in terms of turnout percentage. He said that’s because the number of registered voters in Vermont is steadily rising.

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About Last Night: Seven Days' Full Coverage of Vermont's 2018 Elections

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 11:46 AM

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters Tuesday night at a Vermont Democratic Party event at the Hilton Burlington. - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters Tuesday night at a Vermont Democratic Party event at the Hilton Burlington.
Vermont voters, like many Americans, delivered a split verdict in Tuesday's elections. They reelected a Republican governor, but they also bolstered the Democratic legislature — and they sent a self-described democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, back to the U.S. Senate.

What else happened in Vermont on Election Day 2018? Seven Days has you covered. Click the links below or read on for our full coverage:

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Burlington, South Burlington Voters Approve Big Bonds at Polls

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 12:18 AM

Rendering of the proposed renovation to Burlington High School - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Rendering of the proposed renovation to Burlington High School
Updated at 2:15 a.m. on November 7, 2018.

Big number, big question, big win.

The $70 million bond to rebuild Burlington High School passed resoundingly with 73.8 percent of the vote Tuesday. After all wards were tallied, the measure passed by a count of 13,383 to 4,734.

Although the price tag seemed scary to some residents, school and city officials got behind the proposal and, ultimately, so did voters.

"I voted yes," registered nurse Hannah Warren said while at the polls Tuesday. "I think investing in education is always beneficial for our community. The high school could definitely use some love."

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