Defense attorney Brooks McArthur and Sen. Norm McAllister arrive at court Monday in St. Albans.
Updated June 13, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. with Judge Mello’s ruling on the motions to quash subpoenas issued to reporters.
Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin) walked into Vermont Superior Court in St. Albans Monday morning for the start of court appearances that will determine his fate.
Two days before his trial on sexual assault charges involving a former legislative assistant, McAllister remains uninterested in a plea agreement. He rejected an agreement offered by prosecutors, his lawyer, Brooks McArthur, said. He and State’s Attorney Jim Hughes declined to say what the offer entailed.
“He’s eager for the trial to begin,” McArthur said.
By week’s end, the alleged victim, who worked as McAllister’s legislative assistant; several of the senator’s legislative colleagues; and McAllister himself may take the witness stand.
Lawyers are scheduled to pick a jury on Tuesday. The trial — expected to last two days — will start Wednesday.
Monday, McAllister appeared with his lawyers for a pretrial conference before Vermont Superior Court Judge Robert Mello.
Deputy State’s Attorney Diane Wheeler told Mello she plans to file revised charges that more specifically define the allegations McAllister faces. He will be arraigned on the charges Tuesday, Wheeler said.
That’s in response to a defense request to detail the allegations, McArthur said.
“The amended charge will provide everyone a more definite statement of the allegations against Mr. McAllister,” McArthur said. “Right now, the charges are simply that a nonconsensual sexual encounter occurred at some period of time over the course of several years.”
Defense attorney Brooks McArthur and Deputy State's Attorney Diane Wheeler discuss pretrial motions with Vermont Superior Court Judge Robert Mello on Monday.
Court documents say that the woman, who worked at McAllister’s Highgate farm and then as his assistant in Montpelier, where she stayed at his apartment, alleged that she had about 30forced sexual encounters with McAllister.
“We simply don’t believe that, and we’re asking the state to narrow it so that when the jury hears the evidence they are going to find either beyond a reasonable doubt that a specific act did occur or that it did not occur,” McArthur said.
A second trial, to consider a sexual assault charge involving another alleged victim who worked on McAllister’s farm and a criminal solicitation charge involving that woman’s mother-in-law, has yet to be scheduled. McArthur succeeded in having the cases tried separately.
In the first trial, McArthur said, he will challenge the alleged victim’s credibility.
McArthur declined to say whether McAllister will admit to having consensual sexual contact with the woman. McAllister has given conflicting answers about that in media reports.
Sen. Norm McAllister, right, confers with attorney Brooks McArthur in court Monday.
Those reports were discussed at Monday’s pretrial conference. Robert Hemley, a lawyer representing Seven Days and Vermont Public Radio, argued via telephone that three journalists subpoenaed by the prosecution should not have to testify at trial.
Wheeler said she was particularly interested in having Seven Days reporter Mark Davis and Vermont Public Radio reporter Peter Hirschfeld verify on the stand conversations they had with McAllister.
The senator told Davis for a story published last October that he never denied having consensual sex with the two women he is accused of sexually assaulting. “After my wife died,” Davis quoted McAllister. “Months after. I’ve never denied that I had sex with them.”
McArthur argued in court Monday that McAllister’s statements about unspecific consensual sexual encounters were irrelevant to the criminal charges.
In January, after McAllister was suspended by his fellow senators, Hirschfeld asked the senator — as he was surrounded by media outside the Statehouse — whether he had sex with the intern. “No,” McAllister insisted.
Wheeler had also subpoenaed Seven Days political editor Paul Heintz, but said Monday that she’s unlikely to call him to the stand regarding his interview with the alleged victim.
In a written ruling later Monday, Judge Mello quashed Heintz’s subpoena, but denied motions to quash Davis’ and Hirschfeld’s.
Media attention could make picking a jury a challenge. The charges and McAllister’s unprecedented suspension from the Senate in January led to extensive news coverage. McArthur said he has not asked for a change of venue, however.
“We’re going to ask potential jurors what they’ve heard and how that’s affected their ability to be fair and impartial,” McArthur said. “I’m not going to take a position on whether we can get a fair jury until we go through the process tomorrow.”
McArthur said four legislators are likely to be called to testify for either the prosecution or defense, though he declined to identify which ones. Numerous legislators, including McAllister’s Montpelier roommates and at least one who gave the alleged victim rides home, were questioned in the case.
The alleged victim will testify, McArthur said. Asked whether McAllister will take the stand, he said, “Wait. Stay tuned. You’ll find out.”