Legislature votes to retain all justices, Dooley by smaller margin

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(Host) All four justices on the Vermont Supreme Court retained their seats during a vote in the Legislature on Thursday. Three of the justices won approval by a relatively wide margin, but the vote on retaining Justice John Dooley was much closer.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The vote took place in a joint assembly of the Legislature in a crowded House chamber. Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie was the presiding officer:

(Dubie) “Pursuant to our Constitution and statutes we are assembled here today in joint assembly to cast our votes on the retention of four justices of the Supreme Court….”

(Kinzel) There was increased security at the Statehouse because of the strong opposition to the justices who had participated in two landmark decisions: the Brigham ruling, which led to the passage of Act 60, and the Baker decision, which resulted in the passage of the civil union law.

It was clear the real focus of the opposition was Justice John Dooley, a judge who was instrumental in both the Brigham and Baker decisions. Hartford Representative Michael Kainen, a member of the state’s Judicial Retention Board, said his panel voted to retain Dooley by a vote of 6 to 1 and he urged his colleagues to keep Dooley on the bench:

(Kainen) “I ask that you lay political differences aside. Consider our role here as protecting the independence of the judiciary while taking this time every six years to make sure we hold judges accountable. But they should be accountable to make sure that they are diligent, that they’re hard working, that they’re independent and that they’re fair – not if they subscribe to our same political philosophy or the way we would interpret the law.”

(Kinzel) Newport Representative Duncan Kilmartin opposed Dooley’s retention. Kilmartin said Dooley had repeatedly demonstrated poor judgment as a member of the Vermont Supreme Court:

(Kilmartin) “There are many other decisions among those 500 that were referred to today which revealed the same bad judgment. We are charged with the safeguard of the Constitution of the people. This is our one opportunity to do so.”

(Kinzel) Lawmakers voted to retain Dooley by a vote of 102 to 71. The vote to retain Justice Denise Johnson was 124 to 49. Justice Marilyn Skoglund was approved for another six-year term by a vote of 134 to 38 and the Chief Justice Paul Reiber was overwhelmingly retained by a vote of 167 to 6. The justices will begin serving their new terms on April 1.

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

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