After Governor's Rebuke, Board Votes to Reopen Judicial Search | Off Message

After Governor's Rebuke, Board Votes to Reopen Judicial Search


  • File: Rev. Diane Sullivan
The state's Judicial Nominating Board has agreed to reopen searches for two new Vermont Superior Court judges after Gov. Phil Scott decried the lack of diversity in the candidates previously put forward by the panel.

The 11-member board voted 8-3 Monday afternoon to seek new applicants for the vacant seats, one based in Bennington County and the other in the Northeast Kingdom.

A majority of the board felt it had the discretion to reopen the process, while a minority expressed concerns that Vermont statute provided no such authority, according to JNB chair Eleanor Spottswood.

She stressed that the board did not simply cave to pressure from the governor but listened to testimony from Scott’s general counsel, Jaye Pershing Johnson, at a meeting in Rutland on Monday and made its own decision.

“We had a really interesting discussion,” Spottswood said.

The decision resolves a standoff with the governor over whether he has the right to ask the board for a do-over whenever he doesn’t like the list of judicial candidates sent to him.

After receiving two nominees for one opening and three for a second late last year, Scott chided the board for the paucity of candidates and pointedly noted the lack of gender and racial diversity in the group. As Seven Days reported earlier this month, the governor called on the board's membership to undergo implicit bias training.
Scott lamented that for the six judicial vacancies he’s sought to fill, the board has sent him 11 unique nominees, just three of whom have been women. Of the 34 trial judge positions in Vermont, 32 are occupied — 23 by men and nine by women.

In a statement Tuesday to Seven Days, Scott spokesperson Rebecca Kelley said, "The Governor appreciates that the application process has been reopened and looks forward to working together with the JNB to ensure a strong, independent judiciary that reflects the Vermonters it serves."

The Superior Court will now send out a new notice to members of the bar about the openings. The five candidates previously nominated will continue to be considered, according to Spottswood. The reopened search will simply add new candidates to that pool.

Interviews will likely take place in late July, after the board conducts the governor's requested implicit bias training.

In addition to the two Superior Court positions, the board will also need to nominate candidates to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Skoglund. The processes will be separate but could overlap.

“It’s going to be a busy summer,” Spottswood said.

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