Supreme Court Vacancy May Be Filled in October

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(Host) The head of the state’s Judicial Nominating Board says she hopes to send a list of Supreme Court candidates to Governor Jim Douglas by the middle of September. This means Douglas could fill the vacancy on the court early in autumn.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) In the course of the next few days, every attorney in the state of Vermont will receive a letter or an e-mail notifying them that there’s a vacancy for the position of Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court. The vacancy occurred when Chief Justice Jeffery Amestoy made the surprise announcement last week that he’ll be stepping down from that post in August. The letter encourages the recipient to apply for the position if they feel they’re qualified for the job.

The deadline for applications is July 31. At that time, the state’s Judicial Nominating Board – a panel that consists of three House members, three senators, two gubernatorial appointees and three representatives of the Vermont Bar Association – will sit down and review all the applications. Board chairwoman Peg Flory says there’s really no special process to fill the position of chief justice:

(Flory) “From the Judicial Nominating Board’s perspective, it probably doesn’t change it a whole lot. From the governor’s point, it may. Our job is to send up the qualified applicants.”

(Kinzel) After the board has reviewed the applications, it will schedule interviews. These will take place during the week of September 6. Flory says board members will decide right after the interview if the person should be placed on a list of “qualified” candidates for the governor to review:

(Flory) “After we do the interviews the committee discusses each candidate and advocates for or against a particular candidate and we vote right then And once the votes are completed and tallied, I prepare the list and it goes up the governor.”

(Kinzel) Last year the Legislature passed a law allowing judges to serve until the age of 90; previously the retirement age was 70. Flory thinks this change will encourage more people to apply for vacancies in the court system:

(Flory) “Particularly for someone who’s been in private practice, for them to decide to get out of private practice and get into the state system. If they knew that they only had four years or six years that they’d be able to do it, it’s a little bit problematic – simply because of pensions and retirement accounts.”

(Kinzel) Flory says her goal is to send a list of qualified candidates to the governor by the middle of September. Then Douglas will conduct his own interviews and it’s possible that the vacancy could be filled by the beginning of October.

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

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