Douglas appoints Reiber as Supreme Court chief justice

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has named Paul Reiber as the new chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court. Reiber, who currently serves as an associate justice on the Court, says providing the state’s court system with sufficient resources will be one of his biggest challenges.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Reiber is a former Rutland lawyer who was named to the court by Governor Douglas just over a year ago. The chief justice vacancy occurred several months ago when Jeffery Amestoy stepped down from the court. Douglas says he admires Reiber’s approach to complex legal issues and the governor says Reiber’s strong administrative and leadership skills were an important factor in his decision to elevate Reiber to chief justice:

(Douglas) “It’s clear to me that there’s an aura of collegiality in the Supreme Court that is essential to its smooth operation and the administration of justice. He brings a demeanor to the court that facilitates collaboration.”

(Kinzel) Reiber says he’s honored to be named chief justice and he says he doesn’t bring a particular judicial philosophy to his new position:

(Reiber) “I’m not interested in being pigeon holed. I don’t have an agenda, I didn’t have an agenda when I came to the court. So my approach to decision making is out of a fundamental sense of balance and fairmindedness and with an eye toward the fundamental principles that underlie these ideas.”

(Kinzel) Reiber says one of his biggest challenges will be to make certain Vermont’s court system has enough money to insure that all Vermonters have equal access to the state’s legal system:

(Reiber) “One of my jobs, I think, is going to be to make sure that the courts’ priorities are articulated in such a way so that the Legislature understands and the governor understands where we really need funding and where we have to have funding in order to make sure that we can continue to provide the services. These important services, these are fundamentally important services that the people need.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont Senate will hold confirmation hearings on Reiber’s nomination in January. When he was named as an associate justice, Reiber was confirmed by the Senate on a unanimous vote. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch expects a similar outcome this winter after a thorough review. But Welch does have some overall concerns about the court:

(Welch) “I think the court is in need of strengthening on what I would call just a very high level of rigid intellectual thinking that the best trained jurists can provide. And since Justice Reiber hasn’t had any chance to make a mark there one way or the other, that’s the part that I’m not sure has been addressed. Now the governor is going to have another appointment and I would really hope that he tries to focus on the need for intellectual strengthening on that court.”

(Kinzel) The state’s Judicial Nominating Board will solicit nominations for the new vacancy and the governor says he hopes to make the appointment in several months.

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

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