Interim Washington County State's Attorney Rory Thibault has rescinded plea offers in criminal cases that his predecessor, Scott Williams, made before his abrupt departure in November.
Williams disappeared from public view to seek treatment at the Brattleboro Retreat, and then resigned on January 8. Earlier this month, Gov. Phil Scott appointed Thibault, who used to work for Williams as a deputy prosecutor, to the interim position.
Thibault wrote in a letter that he had "concerns over the content, structure, and basis" of some of Williams' proposed plea agreements. Thibault added that he was also rescinding felony plea offers made by prosecutors who filled in for Williams while the office was understaffed.
"The recession of offers does not represent a substantive change in policy, and should not be interpreted as a shift toward a harsher or more lenient sentencing philosophy," Thibault wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to defense attorneys. "Rather, this decision is made in hope of furthering consistency in outcomes, and to ensure fairness and appropriate resolutions based on the merits of each case."
In the letter, Thibault said he would make exceptions for defendants whose lawyers had stopped preparing for trials, and who had scheduled court appearances to enter their pleas, as well as those who began cooperating with police as part of an agreement.
Thibault told Seven Days he was uncertain how many cases would be affected. After taking office, he said, he grew concerned about “inconsistent and not well-thought-out offers” that had been made before he arrived.
“Rescinding … was designed to give us an opportunity as an office to take stock of our current cases, ensure we’re meeting our obligations to talk to victims before we make offers, and to make sure that how business is being done is consistent,” Thibault said. “The intent is not a huge shift in policy. I would hope people would see it as a recognition that we have work to do and these cases require digging into.”
Thibault, who worked as a prosecutor in the office from June 2016 to October 2017, said he will apply to become the permanent state’s attorney. He said he will soon hire a deputy prosecutor to fill the remaining vacancy in the office.
Thibault said he has not spoken to Williams since being appointed, but hopes to soon.
“While Scott and I didn’t always see eye to eye on how the office ran or how to handle certain cases, he was always very cordial and professional with me, and on a personal level, I feel really bad for what he’s gone through and I have no doubt this has been an incredibly difficult time period for him,” Thibault said.
Defender General Matt Valerio said he was not concerned by Thibault’s decision. “I don’t find it particularly troubling. He’s basically saying, ‘I don’t know what’s out there," Valerio said. "He’s trying to stabilize the ship.”
In his resignation letter, Williams suggested that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and specifically mentioned the 2015 murder of Department for Children and Families social worker Lara Sobel.
Williams dropped from sight in November as he was scheduled to take the witness stand at the sentencing hearing for Jody Herring, who murdered Sobel and three others in 2015.
Williams, who was nearby and ran over to comfort a dying Sobel, was expected to answer questions about his actions that day. A Seven Days story questioned a key detail of Williams' response. Williams filed a last-minute motion to quash his subpoena to testify and sought care at the Brattleboro Retreat, which provides mental health and addiction treatment.
In the following weeks, state regulators began investigating a "community fund" that Williams oversaw. In at least a few instances, defendants who pleaded guilty to charges filed by Williams paid money intended for the fund.