All Judges Retained, Suntag by Slim Margin

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(Host) Lawmakers have voted to retain five state judges for new six-year terms. While most of the judges were retained on strong votes, District Court Judge David Suntag was approved by a 16 vote margin.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) All judges in Vermont, including members of the Supreme Court, come up for review every six years.

The reviews are initially considered by the Legislative Judicial Retention Committee; then this panel makes a recommendation to the full General Assembly.

Because the committee voted to retain Environmental Court Judge Meredith Wright by a 5 to 3 margin, it was expected that Wright would face the toughest scrutiny by lawmakers. But this was not the case. Wright was approved by a vote of 116 to 57.

Critics of Wright cited a huge backlog in the Environmental Court docket and placed the blame directly on Wright, but Senate Natural Resources Committee chairman Dick McCormack argued that the backlog was due to a lack of administrative support for the Court:

(McCormack) “I think it would very unfortunate to fail to retain a diligent public servant because we have failed to provide that public servant with the necessary tools. If there are problems with the Environmental Court we need to look to ourselves.”

Although District Court Judge David Suntag was unanimously approved by the Judicial Retention Committee, his review by the entire legislature was more controversial.

During the retention process, there were complaints that Judge Suntag had implemented court reforms in a highly arrogant manner. Sharon Representative Bill MacKinnon said arrogance was one quality that Vermont judges should not have:

(MacKinnon) “Mr. President I want the word to go out loud and clear from here that any judge in the State of Vermont who would instill a fear of reprisal in a member of the bar who would seek to exercise their right to criticize and critique a judge. In my opinion, that is totally inappropriate and judges like all of us here in this chamber are in the public eye and we are accountable.”

Judge Suntag was retained on a vote of 94 to 78. Three other judges, Walter Morris, Amy Davenport and Nancy Corsones were retained by large margins.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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