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A Case of Good Judgement 

Inside Track

Bernie Sanders

Published July 13, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

It appears to be a case of three cheers and a hip-hip-hooray all around!

Can't find a soul displeased with Gov. Jim Douglas' appointment of District Court Judge Brian Burgess to fill the vacancy on Vermont's five-member supreme court.

Many of the cheers are due to Brian's unofficial first name of "Judge." Burgess has worn the black robe since way back in 1992. Recently, he's served as the state's chief administrative judge, a position that monitors efficiency and controls work assignments for the state's cadre of judicial black robes.

The current four members of the Vermont Supreme Court have less than three years of prior judicial experience combined! They'd have zero experience, in fact, without the two-and-a-half years Associate Justice Marilyn Skoglund served on the District Court bench in the mid-1990s.

Eight years ago in 1997, soon-to-be Associate Justice Burgess was himself found unqualified for a spot on the Vermont Supreme Court by the state's Judicial Nomination Board. But then, so was our current Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

A little memory lane time, eh?

Remember when Gov. Howard Dean, that fiscally conservative, law-and-order Democrat we knew so well in the 1990s, tried to slip his loyal administration secretary Bill Sorrell onto the supreme court as the new chief justice?

After all, it was not without precedent. In 1987, Democratic Gov. Madeleine Kunin appointed her loyal administration secretary John Dooley to the supreme court.

But General Billy did not receive enough votes from the JNB to make the final list submitted to the governor. That made Ho-Ho very angry. He demanded another list. Democrat Dean then picked Republican Attorney General Jeff Amestoy, and the rest is history.

Amestoy's selection opened up the attorney general's post. Sorrell left the Dean administration, ran for AG, and won. He's been there ever since.

Had Howard Dean gotten the chief justice he really wanted in 1997, Chief Justice Amestoy's "recognition of our common humanity" in his historic 1999 opinion regarding marriage rights for same-sex couples would never have been written. And we'll never know how a Chief Justice Sorrell would have ruled.

As attorney general, Sorrell defended state law and argued against the notion that the Vermont Constitution supports marriage rights for gays. He had to, many would argue, since he was the state's chief law enforcement officer.

Soon-to-be Associate Justice Brian Burgess was first appointed to the district court bench back in 1992 by Gov. Law & Order himself. Burgess had previously served as a deputy to Attorney General Amestoy. Brian was one of many judges Ho-Ho appointed who came from law enforcement backgrounds.

In fact, so many folks were getting locked up during the Dean years that Vermont had to start shipping its inmates out of state. No one was ever going to accuse this future presidential candidate of being soft on crime, eh?

Anyway, back to the pick of the moment. Gov. Douglas made the selection from a list of four names that included Judges Matthew Katz, Mary Miles Teachout and Dean Pineles.

According to our court-watching sources, the selection of Burgess made perfect sense.

Judge Katz, a veteran superior court judge from Burlington, often makes the Supremes selection list but is always passed over.

Judge Teachout has gender and politics working against her. In the first place, no one expected Gov. Douglas to tap a third woman for the five-member court. (Besides Marilyn Skoglund, Associate Justice Denise Johnson has been a Supreme since 1990 -- Gov. Madeleine Kunin's farewell gift to the High Court.)

And the judge's daughter, Zephyr Teachout, got a lot of exposure as a core member of the Dean for President campaign. (In fact, Zephyr's thinking about taking a shot at being Ol' Bernardo's replacement in the U.S. House. See more below.)

Judge Pineles got pretty good reviews from our legal sources, but, believe it or not, they all brought up his role 21 years ago in the illegal state raid on the Church of Island Pond in 1984. Pineles was Gov. Richard Snelling's legal counsel at the time.

Meanwhile, all agree Judge Burgess is a very decent guy and pleasant to work with. His courtroom decisions have not been reversed on appeal as often as others'.

With Burgess filling the supreme court vacancy, the opening on the minds of all state judges is the one Brian leaves behind: chief administrative judge. That's the one who makes the court assignments. If the chief administrative judge doesn't like you, said one legal source, "You can end up stuck on family court for four years."

Zephyr Alert! -- Former Deaniac and Norwich, Vermont, native Zephyr Teachout, 33, told "Inside Track" this week that she is seriously thinking about a run for Congress in 2006 despite the lack of encouragement she's getting from the good old boys in the Vermont Democrat Party, who'd like to avoid a primary. A final decision, she said, is still a couple months away.

So far, Democratic State Sen. Peter Welch of Hartland has announced his candidacy with three former Democratic governors at his side: Phil Hoff, Tom Salmon and Queen Madeleine.

Former Democratic State Sen. Peter Shumlin of Putney has also indicated he's targeting the open congressional seat.

Folks down Windham County way are not real pleased with Welchie's "sell-out" on above ground nuke waste storage at Entergy's Vermont Yankee. The issue gives Putney Pete a good base to build on.

If Young Zeph jumps in, it'll be a real doozy, eh? One Zephyr vs. two Peters.

For those who might think Zephyr is a bit on the young side, don't forget that Sen. Patrick Leahy was a lad of 34 when he won his first race for the U.S. Senate in 1974.

On the Republican side, the possibilities include Adjutant Gen. Martha Rainville and/or Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.

Progressive State Rep. David Zuckerman has also said he's considering a shot. But it's hard to believe the rookie chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, the first Prog to hold a committee chairmanship, would kiss it good-bye for a hopeless congressional bid, which would only grease the skids for a GOP snatch of Vermont's lone seat in the House of Representatives.

And while Young Zeph "thinks" about it, she'll be holding regular Meetup-style get-togethers every Thursday night at 8 p.m. at Burlington's Vermont Pub & Brewery. Ms. Teachout tells us she's starting a Vermont chapter of "Drinking Liberally." Check out http://www.drinkingliberally.org for more info.


Mayoral Update -- It'll be about 60 degrees cooler next March when Burlington voters go to the polls to pick a mayor. Incumbent Democratic Mayor Peter Clavelle, an ex-Prog, has yet to make his intentions known. First elected to the top-floor corner office way back in 1989, Clavelle's record puts him right up there with the best mayors Burlington's ever had.

But Mayor Moonie's ill-fated shot at governor last year appears to have left a few scars. He did, after all, get creamed by the Middlebury Miracle, Jim Douglas.

It didn't help that the wolves were nipping at his heels shortly after the 2005 New Year began, with State Rep. and Health Care Reform Star John Tracy telling yours truly in March that he intended to run for mayor next winter. He wasn't waiting for Clavelle to make up his mind.

John-John has chosen a rather odd route to the mayor's office, one that's taken him to Montpeculiar for the last nine winters. Tracy's leadership skills shone brightly under the golden dome; he was elected to lead the Democratic caucus in the post-civil-unions days, when Republicans rode the backlash all the way to the Speaker of the House's office.

Tracy ran for Speaker and lost to Republican fuel-oil millionaire Walter Freed. When the Ds took back the majority last November, Tracy avoided a power struggle within the Democratic caucus, backing Gaye Symington for Speaker. In return, Tracy got the chairmanship of the special health-care committee Symington created, and all the TV face time that came with it.

Meanwhile, Ward Four Republican City Councilor Kevin Curley has told anyone who'll listen over the last two years that he intends to be a mayoral candidate in March 2006.

But any expectation that Clavelle will pass the torch to Tracy is sheer fantasy. Not going to happen. Sources say the mayor did not fancy the rather unusual, jump-the-gun timing of Tracy's mayoral declaration last March, coming as it did while Mayor Moonie was still licking his gubernatorial wounds. Clavelle's friends and supporters -- of which there are many -- didn't like it, either.

We don't know what Mayor Moonie will decide. But we do know that if he decides to put the period on a brilliant mayoral chapter, there will be no shortage of potential successors yearning to pick up the pen.

As we reported last April, former State Rep. Karen Moran Lafayette has mayoral aspirations. Her grandpa was mayor. The abandoned Moran Plant on the waterfront is named after him.

Hey, maybe she has the magic plan to turn it into something useful?

Karen's ex-husband, Alderman Paul Lafayette (they were called aldermen in the old pre-politically correct days) lost the 1987 mayor's race to a three-term mayor named Bernie Sanders. Karen was in mother mode back then. Now the kids are grown. She spent the winter at the Statehouse as a lobbyist representing the City of Burlington.

Ward Six City Councilor Andy Montroll, a Democrat, has never been shy about wanting to be mayor one day. We hope he lives long enough.

The big news here is that State Sen. Hinda Miller (D) has made it perfectly clear she will throw her Jogbra in the ring if Peter Clavelle decides it's time for something new in his life.

Three decades ago, Hinda and business partner Lisa Lindhal answered the age-old question, "Why isn't there a jockstrap for women?"

The sportsbra was born. Hinda became president of the company. She was a multimillionaire by 40, eventually selling out to Champion Inc.

Sen. Jogbra's business credentials and management experience, as well as her potential to draw GOP support, would make her a formidable mayoral candidate. Rep. Tracy's record of being a dedicated house husband pales in comparison.

General Dilemma -- While Ol' Zeph and friends toss back a few cold ones to start off the 2006 political campaign season, Gen. Martha Rainville the Republi-can isn't finding similar political refreshment just yet.

Marvelous Martha has chosen the political party she wants to belong to and the race she's "thinking about" entering, but she's having an awkward time handling the obvious questions a woman in such a position might expect: Generalis-sima, what do you think of the way the U.S. war in Iraq is going?

When Rutland Herald reporter Susan Smallheer asked Rainville that question at a Fourth of July celebration last week, she got a funny answer. Gen. Martha told the reporter, "There's a line today that I can't cross."

More disturbing was the general's assertion she not only can but will remain adjutant general should she decide to officially enter the congressional race. Hey, everybody needs a paycheck, right?

However, the possibility of making a decision to effectively have it both ways is one that Marvelous Martha ought to reconsider carefully. Last week, the Brattleboro Reformer's editorial page weighed in with some free advice.

"The war in Iraq promises to be a major political issue in the upcoming election. How can a candidate who is in charge of troops fighting in that war honestly say what she really thinks without compromising her job as commanding general?

"Rainville has said she would run for Congress only if she felt she could offer 'what Vermonters need.'

"What Vermonters need is a candidate who isn't compromised between her duties as commanding officer of the Vermont National Guard and the duties of a political candidate running for Congress.

"Legally, she could do both jobs. But we believe that it wouldn't be proper if she tried to.

"If Rainville wants to run for Congress, she should step down as adjutant general. If she wants to remain as adjutant general, Rainville should put her political aspirations on hold and concentrate on the tremendously difficult job of leading a fighting force in wartime."

The Reformer has a point, eh?

Media Notes -- Like the other four Ch. 3 "You Can Quote Me" viewers, yours truly got the bad news live on Sunday morning: no more "Quote Me" broadcasts until fall. According to the WCAX-TV website, the show will not air again until September 11.

The dropping of Ch. 3's premier public-affairs program for the rest of the summer came as a surprise. "Quote Me" viewers who tuned in on Sunday found a 30-minute paid commercial advocating mail-order Iceland Health Omega 3 pills, a fish-oil supplement, replacing News Director/Host Marselis Parsons and the guest of the week.

"Our experience of the past few years," said Ch. 3 GM Peter Martin, "has been that there just isn't that much going on in terms of public issues during late July and August, particularly during nonelection years. Many potential guests," said Mr. Martin, "are on vacation."

"Even an announced congressional candidate asked to be put off until September," he added.

Certainly some may prefer a fish-oil infomercial to "You Can Bore Me" on Sunday morning, but yours truly is not one of them. Our concern is, if the fish-oil infomercials get higher ratings than "You Can Quote Me," Vermont will lose its last Sunday morning public-affairs program broadcast on a commercial station.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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