Toensing Files New Complaint Against Sorrell | Off Message

Toensing Files New Complaint Against Sorrell


Charlotte attorney Brady Toensing testifies before the Senate Government Operations Committee last month. - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Charlotte attorney Brady Toensing testifies before the Senate Government Operations Committee last month.
Charlotte lawyer Brady Toensing is seeking to expand the scope of an inquiry into Attorney General Bill Sorrell's compliance with campaign finance laws.

Toensing, the vice chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, wrote a committee of state's attorneys Tuesday requesting they consider two new allegations against Sorrell.

According to Toensing, Sorrell turned a blind eye to allegedly illegal spending by the Democratic Attorneys General Association on his own reelection efforts during the 2012 campaign. Toensing further alleges that Sorrell accepted legal representation in that case and others from a Burlington attorney, Richard Cassidy, who was arguing a separate matter before Sorrell's office. Toensing called the situation "an indisputable conflict of interest."

Neither Sorrell nor Cassidy immediately responded to requests for comment late Tuesday.

Last month, Toensing filed a four-part complaint against Sorrell alleging various campaign finance-related infractions. His calls for the AG to appoint independent counsel to investigate the matter were eventually heeded by Gov. Peter Shumlin. At the behest of the Senate Government Operations Committee, Shumlin appointed Shelburne attorney and former state representative Tom Little a week and a half ago to help Vermont's 14 state's attorneys investigate the allegations.

Toensing's original complaint drew heavily from reporting by Seven Days. In his updated complaint, the lawyer beefed up an earlier allegation that Sorrell performed official acts in exchange for campaign donations with new information disclosed by Seven Days after the first complaint was filed. Late last month, the paper reported on Sorrell's solicitation of free travel and other perks from national law firms with business before his office.

One of Toensing's new allegations focuses on an old issue: the $200,000 DAGA spent on Sorrell's Democratic primary election fight against Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan. Toensing had previously argued that Sorrell illegally coordinated with a DAGA-funded political action committee, Committee for Justice and Fairness, which spent the money on television advertisements supporting Sorrell.

The AG has repeatedly denied that claim.

In his latest complaint, Toensing argues that CJF failed to register in Vermont until months after the primary election and did not file regular campaign finance reports. Because DAGA had previously contributed the maximum allowable donation of $6,000 directly to Sorrell's campaign, Toensing argues, the organization should have been barred from making independent expenditures through a so-called super PAC.

In an October 2012 story about CJF's failure to file, Seven Days' Andy Bromage reported that Sorrell's office told him it had not investigated the alleged violation because it had not received a complaint. But Toensing points out that then-Vermont Republican Party chairman Jack Lindley had, in fact, already filed such a complaint. 

"Internal emails show the complaint was discussed at the highest levels of the Attorney General’s office," Toensing writes. "Despite a conflict of interest and a request for an independent investigation, General Sorrell ignored his ethical obligations and refused."

Toensing notes that Sorrell's office aggressively investigated a similar situation after the Republican Governors Association donated money directly to Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie's campaign and then made supposedly independent expenditures. Toensing has previously represented Dubie.

Toensing's other new charge focuses on Sorrell's personal legal representation. Cassidy represented Sorrell in a January 2013 hearing related to the CJF expenditures. Two days after the court issued a decision, Toensing writes, Sorrell's office signed an agreement with two other clients of Cassidy's. 

"Therefore, General Sorrell's personal attorney had a matter pending before General Sorrell's office while representing General Sorrell, an indisputable conflict of interest," Toensing writes. 

In the new complaint, Toensing questions whether Cassidy was paid for the work. Sorrell recently told WDEV's Mark Johnson that Cassidy was advising him again on an informal basis.

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