Scott Appoints Two Women to Serve as Superior Court Judges | Off Message

Scott Appoints Two Women to Serve as Superior Court Judges


Gov. Phil Scott named two women Monday to fill vacant judgeships on the Vermont Superior Court. Scott made the appointments after pressuring the state's nominating board for more diverse candidates.

Caledonia County State's Attorney Lisa Warren will preside over trial courts in the Northeast Kingdom and Washington County, replacing retired judge Dennis Pearson. Kerry Ann McDonald-Cady, a deputy state's attorney in Windham County, will be assigned to Rutland and Bennington counties. She replaces former judge David Howard.

In a press release, Scott praised the prosecutors' "record of sound legal judgement to ensure justice, which protects the vulnerable and upholds public safety."

Scott had previously expressed concern about gender imbalance on the bench, where 23 of 32 state trial judges were men prior to Monday's announcement. He criticized the Judicial Nominating Board, an independent group that vets judicial candidates, for including too few women in its pool of "well qualified" candidates and demanded that members reopen the job search. Scott also called upon the board to undergo implicit bias training.
The move rankled some board members, who saw Scott's rebuke as a guise for the governor, a Republican, to appoint conservative judges. But the board acquiesced and reposted the positions. Members also underwent bias training at a recent retreat, board chair Eleanor Spottswood said.
The reposted position garnered 11 more applicants. Six of those were deemed "well qualified" and forwarded to the governor's office along with the original five.

Spottswood said she felt "very good" about how the board handled the process.

Monday's appointments did not change board member David Silver's belief that Scott's intervention was motivated by ideology, not equity.

"The governor's professed rationale to get more women on the bench was clearly a cover for him wanting to get more conservative members on the bench," the Bennington attorney said, "because we sent him up women and people of color [previously] and he chose not to choose them."

Silver said Warren and McDonald-Cady's names were put forward as a result of the renewed search. He declined to comment on the governor's picks beyond noting that both were "career prosecutors."

Warren, of Waterford, has been a prosecutor for nearly 15 years, including a decade as the state's attorney in Caledonia County. She ran unopposed for reelection last year after winning an uncontested Republican primary. She gave $120 to the Caledonia County Republican Committee over the last two years, according to state campaign finance records.

Warren did not attend law school but read the law to become an attorney in 1995. She has a bachelor's degree from Boston College.

McDonald-Cady, of Dover, attended Binghamton University and Vermont Law School. She worked as an associate at Fisher & Fisher for seven years, then became a deputy state's attorney in Windham County in 2010. McDonald-Cady won an award from the Vermont Justice for Children Task Force in 2012 for her work on juvenile abuse cases in family and criminal divisions.

She's also a school board member of the River Valleys Unified School District.

Spottswood said her board recently tweaked its application for a vacant Supreme Court justice position, including adding a question about candidates' experience working with diverse populations. The change was not prompted by the governor's request, she said.

"Those sorts of things can make a difference in terms of the pool of applicants we're trying to attract," she said.

Correction, October 1, 2019: This post was updated to correct Eleanor Spottswood's comments related to the Supreme Court job application.

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