File: Pool Photo/Gregory J. Lamoureux/County Courier
Norm McAllister in court in January
Norm McAllister testified Friday that his former lawyers pressured and "browbeat" him into accepting a plea deal from which he now hopes to withdraw.
One of those lawyers strongly denied that allegation during a session in Vermont Superior Court in St. Albans that went on for two and a half hours without resolution.
As the court was closing for the day, Judge Martin Maley ordered the proceeding to be continued. No date was immediately set.
McAllister, a former state senator, last month pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of prohibited acts and one felony charge of lewd and lascivious conduct, which had been reduced from a sexual assault charge. Under the deal, he could have served up to seven years in prison, compared to a possible maximum life sentence on the original sexual assault charge.
The charges involved his former farmhand and an alleged sex-for-rent situation.
During testimony, McAllister said he never wanted a plea deal and always maintained his innocence. He said that he became confused and discouraged as his legal team pressured him on the eve of his trial last month.
At one point, his former attorneys, Brooks McArthur and David Williams, had him "in tears," McAllister said, adding: "And I don't think I'm that soft of a person." McAllister added: "I felt that they had turned on me. I didn't know what to do."
The attorneys also told him, "These laws are all geared toward protecting women," McAllister said. "They said, 'The cards are stacked against you.'"
McArthur strongly disputed that he ever said anything of that sort when he took the stand. "No, absolutely not," McArthur said, when asked by deputy state's attorney John Lavoie about the alleged statement regarding courts being stacked against men.
Brooks McArthur outside the courthouse Friday
McArthur had been subpoenaed to testify. The judge concluded that McAllister had waived attorney-client privilege, which typically protects communications between lawyers and the people they represent from disclosure.
McArthur said he urged McAllister to take the plea deal after concluding that the state's evidence was "strong."
A taped phone call involving McAllister was especially problematic, McArthur said.
"We were very concerned about the recorded conversation," McArthur said.
It was his opinion that if the jury believed the evidence, that McAllister would "be convicted of the charges pending against him," McArthur said.
After McAllister accepted the deal, he went home and shared the news with his son, Heath McAllister. McArthur testified that he received an angry text that night from Heath. "It said, 'You no good son of a bitch,'" McArthur told the court.
On the phone that night, McAllister told McArthur he wanted to throw out the plea deal, McArthur said. The lawyer told McAllister that he didn't think it was a good idea, and to sleep on it. The next day, McAllister announced he wanted to try and get out of the deal, and McArthur told him he would need new lawyers and made some recommendations.
McArthur disputed the idea that McAllister did not understand the plea bargain. "He seemed to understand that his exposure was significantly reduced under this resolution," McArthur said.
Lavoie read from the transcript of the plea bargain hearing and noted the numerous times McAllister said 'yes' when the judge asked him if he was agreeing to the deal, and doing so of his own free will.
The judge "asked you multiple times, multiple times, if you were doing this voluntarily," Lavoie said.
But Bob Katims, McAllister's new lawyer, argued in court papers that his client was pressured to agree. He repeated that in court Friday.
Outside the courthouse after the hearing, a woman stood on the steps with a sign protesting McAllister's bid to toss out the plea. He had representation, and it would be wrong for him to back out of the plea deal, said Patricia Shea, a Franklin County resident.
"People are paying attention and we want justice in this case," she said. "I don't see why he thinks he can take a plea deal and go back on it."
As Shea stood on the steps with her sign, Heath McAllister walked over and proclaimed, "Miss, you should want him to go to trial. A plea bargain is a scapegoat. Everyone should want him to go trial."