The Vermont Supreme Court is taking the show on the road — to Vermont Law School. The court will hear seven cases tomorrow (including a few big ones). For full details, click here.
On the docket: an appeal of the approval of the Act 250 permit for the proposed St. Albans Walmart; two public records lawsuits filed by the Rutland Herald; and a case questioning whether a defendant charged with robbing a pharmacy using a toy pistol should have his statement to police excluded because he made it after asking for a lawyer.
Here's a rundown of tomorrow's court session, which starts at 9:30 a.m. in South Royalton:
Rutland Herald v. City of Rutland v. AFSCME Council 93, Local 1201 (9:30 - 10 a.m.)
This is one of two open records cases that's being closely watched by media organizations and right-to-know advocates as possible precedent-setters. Both deal with whether law enforcement can keep secret records relating to internal investigations. In this case, the Herald requested documents, pursuant to Vermont's Public Records Act, related to Rutland City police employees who were disciplined or dismissed following an internal investigation into whether they viewed child pornography while on duty. The city withheld the records using the law's exemptions for files related to "detection and investigation of a crime," and involving personal documents relating to employment. Superior Court Judge William Cohen ruled the documents must be released because the legal exemption "only applies during the course of an investigation," and in this case, the investigation had been closed. On appeal, the city is arguing for releasing redacted versions of the records to protect sensitive information.
Rutland Herald v. Vermont State Police & Office of Attorney General (10 - 10:30 a.m.)
This second big public records case deals with the Herald's request for records relating to the probe of a state police employee. In January 2010, the Vermont State Police discovered one of its employees, training coordinator David McMullen, might be in possession of child porn. The day after searching McMullen's residence, he shot himself. The state cops denied the newspaper's records request using the same exemption as the above case. Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford ruled for the state, and the Herald appealed, arguing that the Supreme Court should order the release of the records, and that exemptions in the Vermont Public Records Act should be declared unconstitutional under both the U.S. and Vermont constitutions.
In re JLD Properties of St. Albans, LLC (11 - 11:30 a.m.)
The decade-old fight over a proposed Walmart in St. Albans gets another day in court. This time, the appellants in the case — including the Vermont Natural Resources Council, some adjacent landowners, Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth and citizens of St. Albans and neighboring towns — argue the Environmental Court was wrong to uphold the Act 250 approval of a 147,000-square-foot Walmart on the site. The appellants' argument is three-fold: that members of the St. Albans Development Review Board, which approved the project in 2008, have conflicts of interest; that the development doesn't conform to town zoning rules; and that JLD Properties was wrongly allowed to resubmit an already-denied Act 250 permit.
State of Vermont v. Jeremy Robitaille (1 - 1:30 p.m.)
Robitaille was arrested and charged with assault and robbery after allegedly holding up a pharmacy with a toy pistol. The cops took him into custody and read him his Miranda rights at the station. Robitaille told the cops he wouldn't talk and invoked his right to counsel, but he did not request a specific attorney. Shortly after that, he asked the officer what kind of a deal he could get for cooperating. The cop told him only the prosecutor could cut a deal, but suggested it might help if Robitaille cooperated. So after again being read his rights, the suspect signed a written waiver and gave a statement to police. Before trial, Robitaille's attorneys filed motions to exclude his statement to cops, arguing the cops failed to contact a public defender the first time he requested counsel. The court denied that request and Robitaille entered a contingent plea. His appeal asks the high court to rule his statement inadmissible.
Rathe Salvage, Inc. v. R. Brown & Sons, Robert & Stephanie Brown (1:30 - 2 p.m.)
Rathe Salvage is a salvage yard in Colchester. R. Brown & Sons is a scrap metal transporter with multiple locations around Vermont, including Waterbury and Essex Junction, that paid Rathe to crush its junk vehicles and transport the scrap metal to a steel mill for sale. Rathe sued R. Brown, alleging the transporter was underreporting the weight of scrap loads going to the steel mills — and therefore underpaying the salvage yard. The trial court ruled for Rathe Salvage after R. Brown refused to produce weight slips for the loads. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed on the grounds the transporter wasn't in possession of those slips. On a second go around, the trial court again ruled for the salvage yard. This is R. Browns' second appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court. One question of interest for the high court: whether the transporter R. Brown & Sons can submit the testimony of a polygraph expert who examined the transporter, or whether such evidence is inadmissible in a civil trial. (File Photo by Matthew Thorsen)
Paul Blanchard v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2:30 - 3 p.m.)
Paul Blanchard sued Goodyear after being diagnosed in 2005 with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer, claiming that discharge from Goodyear's plant in Windsor caused his disease. As a child, Blanchard's house abutted the plant and he often played in a field nearby that had a grayish hue and was near a ditch filled with an "odorous oily substance." Goodyear admits to having used benzene at the plant — a chemical linked to the disease — but won the case on the first round by arguing that Blanchard couldn't prove the benzene levels on the field were high enough to cause his cancer.
Richard Daniels, Mascoma Savings Bank v. The Elks Club, et al. (3 - 3:30 p.m.)
After being sued by the Vermont Human Rights Commission, the Hartford Elks Club had to pay a $450,000 discrimination judgment for denying women membership in their club. The Elks didn't have the money to pay the judgment, so a lien was placed on their property, including the Elks Lodge. Richard Daniels is an Elk trustee who subsequently purchased the mortgage on the property and moved to foreclose for nonpayment. Opposing the foreclosure were the Elks' junior creditors, who lost their case in trial court and brought this appeal. The junior creditors want the Elks to be considered "unincorporated," meaning Daniels would be personally liable for the debt.