Confirmation hearings begin for Chief Justice Reiber

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(Host) Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber says the state needs to make sure it has the resources to run an effective judicial system. In remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Reiber said that’s one of the biggest challenges facing the court. The committee is holding hearings to considering the nomination of the chief justice.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Reiber) “Hi I’m Paul Reiber, good morning.”

(Kinzel) Chief Justice Paul Reiber got a very warm reception as he entered the Senate Judiciary committee room. It was just over a year ago that the committee reviewed Reiber’s appointment to the court as an associate justice. Four of the panel’s six members were well acquainted with Reiber’s legal resume and his general judicial philosophy.

In the middle of November, Governor Jim Douglas nominated Reiber to replace former Chief Justice Jeffery Amestoy who resigned from court. Reiber says he wants to work with the Legislature and the governor to make certain that the state’s judicial system is responding to the legal needs of the state in a time of limited resources:

(Reiber) “This is not a problem that’s going to go away. I think this is our lot and our job and the goal I’ve got, I guess, is to make sure that we are meting out those resources – not only in the most efficient way but in the best way for purposes of transporting legal services to the people of this state. So I guess I’m a work in progress.”

(Kinzel) Part of the state’s prison overcrowding problem is due to a large number of people who are being held in pre-trial detention. Currently, about 375 people are incarcerated for this reason. Reiber told the committee that there are usually good reasons why judges don’t release these individuals and that the cases often involve alcohol or drug abuse:

(Reiber) “The judge, whoever it is, feels that they have no choice but to try to precipitate some sort of treatment mechanism that is introduced into this individual’s life. The only way that these judges have seen to do that is through the corrections system by holding them in detention or by at least isolating them so that they aren’t a potential harm to themselves or anybody else.”

(Kinzel) Committee Chairman Dick Sears expects that his panel will confirm Reiber’s nomination in the near future:

(Sears) “I think he’s a good candidate. I think that he’s very different from Chief Justice Amestoy, in terms of vision in terms of the way he approaches the job. That doesn’t mean he won’t do an excellent job over the next six years. These are challenging times and perhaps it does call for somebody with a more careful and moderate approach to the bench.”

(Kinzel) Reiber’s nomination could come before the full senate in the next two weeks.

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

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