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Judge Denies Burlington Telecom's Request to Delay Court Case

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Vermont Superior Court Judge Helen Toor has denied Burlington Telecom's motion to delay a hearing on whether the utility is in violation of a court order issued last year barring it from using city general funds for BT expenses.

The ruling means that a contempt of court hearing will be held on May 23 in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington.

In 2009, two disgruntled taxpayers — former city councilors Gene Shaver and Fred Osier — sued Burlington Telecom and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold to repay the city's cash pool the $16.9 million that had been borrowed and not repaid. The failure to repay the money within 60 days is a violation of BT's certificate of public good issued by the state and also potentially a violation of the city charter.

Leopold tried to plead immunity from being named in the suit, but to no avail. That means he could be on the hook financially for some of the money repaid to taxpayers if the court finds in the taxpayers' favor.

As part of the civil litigation, BT agreed to not use city funds for ongoing expenses unless it repaid the money within 60 days. Last year it was learned that the city spent several hundred thousand dollars on consultants for BT-related items, but BT didn't fully repay taxpayers. Shortly thereafter, Osier and Shaver's attorney filed a contempt of court charge.

Last month BT asked Toor to delay any further court hearings on the telecom's intransigence until the Vermont Public Service Board weighed in on various violations of BT's state license.

This isn't the first time BT has asked for a delay in the civil trial. Each time, too, Toor has rejected their request.

"The court has an interest in enforcing its own orders separate and apart from any PSB matters," Toor noted on her single-page denial of BT's motion. Toor issued her ruling late Wednesday.

Despite BT's legal troubles, potential buyers remain interested in the municipal telecom. Two of those suitors were interested in February, while two more potential buyers are just beginning to make overtures. Several meetings will be held this month with these unnamed buyers, according to a letter filed with the PSB earlier this week.

Aside from the civil trial, a state investigation led by Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan is close to wrapping up, though it's unlikely any criminal charges will be filed. A separate federal investigation was started last year, too, but there's been no word yet from federal prosecutors whether they will file charges or not.

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