Defense attorney David Sleigh wants charges against 20 of his Orleans County clients dropped because he claims the state’s attorney was improperly appointed.
Sleigh has sparked a legal battle that may seem arcane, but he insists his clients’ rights to due process are at stake.
"I think it’s a fundamental requirement when the law gives one person an enormous amount of power to restrict the liberty of citizens by accusing them of crimes that that person complies with every aspect of the law," says Sleigh.
So why does he think the current state’s attorney, Alan Franklin, was illegally appointed? It’s complicated, but it boils down to chronology. In November of 2010, Keith Flynn was re-elected as state’s attorney for Orleans County.
"But Flynn never took the oath of office and never assumed the office of state’s attorney that began February 1, 2011," Sleigh points out. "And thus the vacancy, or the absence of a state’s attorney, was not caused by any death or resignation because nobody had ever assumed the office."
Flynn never assumed the office because he chose instead to accept an appointment by Governor Peter Shumlin to head the Department of Public Safety.
Shumlin then appointed Alan Franklin to serve the state’s attorney term to which Flynn had been re-elected.
Sleigh says Shumlin overstepped his authority. Now, Sleigh says, the only prosecutor who can legally charge his Orleans County clients with crimes is the attorney general. And that, Sleigh says, means all charges by Franklin need to be dismissed.
But Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell says Flynn had resigned not only from the term he was ending, but also the new one he would have begun.
"And Vermont law does not establish any other mechanism for filling vacancies," Treadwell says. I submitted that it would be an absurd result that an office would have to remain empty and no person could be appointed to fill the remainder of the term."
Treadwell says the law makes no provision for a special election-another point Sleigh disputes.
Orleans State’s Attorney Alan Franklin is making no comment.
A court hearing in this dispute is scheduled in Newport for November 7. One of Sleigh’s 20 defendants is Roger Pion, who is accused of crushing seven Orleans County sheriffs’ vehicles with his tractor.