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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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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Cannabis
Vermont Panel to Propose 26 Percent Tax on Retail Weed

Posted By on Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 12:54 PM

Cash crop? - DREAMSTIME
  • Dreamstime
  • Cash crop?
Gov. Phil Scott’s task force studying pot policy released draft recommendations this week for how the state should structure a taxed-and-regulated retail cannabis market.

The 88-page report, created by the taxation and regulation subcommittee of the Governor's Marijuana Advisory Commission, recommends a 20 percent excise tax on all retail cannabis sales, in addition to the state’s 6 percent sales tax. Towns could also choose to levy a 1 percent local option tax. The panel recommends that the tax revenue be distributed to cities and towns statewide; it would also pay for the administrative costs of regulating the new market.

Consumers in Massachusetts, which has legalized retail sales, pay 17 to 20 percent in taxes.

Deputy Tax Commissioner Craig Bolio noted that the recommendations are only in draft form and may change before the governor’s commission issues its final recommendations in December.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Media Note: State Declines to Prosecute DUI Chronicled by Valley News

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2018 at 9:16 PM

DREAMSTIME
  • Dreamstime
In a powerful piece published Sunday in the Valley News, veteran columnist Jim Kenyon described the saga of a poverty-stricken Strafford man who was arrested for driving under the influence of a prescribed antidepressant. Three days later, Windsor County State's Attorney David Cahill announced that his office would not prosecute the man, Scott Pixley, for a DUI — but would charge him with negligent driving.

The case dates back to July 31, when a Hartford police officer pulled Pixley over for allegedly veering over the center line while driving to pick up prescriptions for his elderly parents. Pixley, who works as a dishwasher, said he had been sleep-deprived and described his prescribed medications to the officer.

That didn’t appease police, who, according to Kenyon, impounded Pixley's car, handcuffed him and and temporarily locked him in a holding cell. Blood tests later revealed that Pixley had caffeine and a prescribed medication in his system at the time of his arrest, Kenyon reported, leading police to cite him with a DUI.

In response to inquires, Cahill informed Seven Days and the Valley News by email Wednesday that his office would only charge Pixley with negligent driving. He is scheduled to be arraigned November 20. The Valley News first reported the prosecutor's decision.

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Defeated House Democrat Secures Recount in Grand Isle County

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2018 at 8:28 PM

Ben Joseph - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Ben Joseph
Rep. Ben Joseph (D-North Hero) has successfully petitioned for a recount after finishing fourth in a race for two seats representing Grand Isle County and a slice of Milton in the Vermont House.

Official results from last week's election showed Joseph's fellow incumbent Democrat, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), placing first with 2,100 votes and Republican challenger Leland Morgan coming in second with 1,984.

Morgan's nephew, Michael Morgan, finished third, with 1,952 votes, while Joseph claimed 1,926.

A candidate is eligible to request a recount if the margin between winner and loser is less than 5 percent of the total votes cast, "divided by the number of persons to be elected," according to Vermont statute.

Judge Robert Mello scheduled the recount for 9 a.m. on November 28 at the Grand Isle County Courthouse in North Hero, according to Joseph.

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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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Lawsuit: Feds Used an Informant to Infiltrate Migrant Justice

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2018 at 12:11 PM

The Migrant Justice rally outside the federal courthouse - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • The Migrant Justice rally outside the federal courthouse
Updated 7:35 p.m.

Federal immigration authorities used a civilian informant to infiltrate meetings of Migrant Justice as part of a larger, sustained surveillance campaign that targeted members for their activism, the group alleges in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles has been helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security to engage in an illegal effort to “harass, arrest and detain” farmworker activists, Migrant Justice said in a statement. Its suit names ICE, DHS and the DMV as defendants.

The plaintiffs are represented by a coalition of activists and legal heavyweights: the ACLU of Vermont, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the National Immigration Law Center, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a large law firm headquartered in Los Angeles.
The plaintiffs, from left to right: Miguel Alcudia Gamas, Zully Palacios Rodriguez, Jose Enrique Balcazar Sanchez and Victor Diaz - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • The plaintiffs, from left to right: Miguel Alcudia Gamas, Zully Palacios Rodriguez, Jose Enrique Balcazar Sanchez and Victor Diaz

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Feds Drop Burlington College Probe, According to Sanders Aide

Posted By on Tue, Nov 13, 2018 at 2:18 PM

Jane O'Meara Sanders (right) and her husband - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Jane O'Meara Sanders (right) and her husband
Updated at 3:07 p.m.

A spokesperson for Jane O'Meara Sanders said Tuesday that federal authorities have concluded a long-running probe into her tenure as president of the now-shuttered Burlington College.

"Jane Sanders has been informed that the U.S. Attorney in Vermont has closed its investigation of the Burlington College land deal and has decided not to bring charges of any kind," spokesperson Jeff Weaver said in a written statement. In a phone interview, Weaver said the feds had shared the news with O’Meara Sanders’ attorneys in “the last couple of days.”

Federal authorities had not previously confirmed the investigation's existence. Kraig LaPorte, a spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, said Tuesday that he could neither corroborate nor refute Weaver's statement, but he noted that his office does "communicate with represented parties."

The news lifts a cloud that has hovered over O'Meara Sanders and her husband, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for nearly three years. It comes as Sen. Sanders contemplates a second run for president.

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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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