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Petitioner James Burke sought post-conviction relief (PCR) alleging that his trial counsel, Attorney Daniel Maguire, provided ineffective assistance because of a conflict of interest. Burke was arrested in 2005 for sexual assault; he was arraigned in 2005, and his trial commenced in 2010. During the time between his arraignment and trial, petitioner filed nearly 200 motions, the vast majority of which were filed pro se in writing and orally on the record. These included motions to disqualify three trial court judges, a motion to disqualify a prosecutor, and nineteen motions for sanctions. Petitioner also expressed discontent with various appointed counsel at multiple points in pretrial proceedings. During discovery, he requested, was provided with, and then dismissed appointed counsel. Then, midway through depositions in 2009, petitioner once again requested and was provided with appointed counsel. Attorney Maguire ultimately represented petitioner at trial. Throughout pretrial proceedings, the trial court reprimanded petitioner many times for his disruptive language and behavior. In April 2008, defendant allegedly threatened the deputy state’s attorney after a day of depositions and was arrested for obstruction of justice. During a hearing in 2009 when petitioner again sought to dismiss his appointed counsel, the trial court questioned whether petitioner was competent to proceed pro se. Based in part on psychiatric evaluations in 2004 and 2006, the trial court ultimately determined that petitioner was competent to stand trial. However, it concluded that given his previous misconduct, it would be “naive to expect that [petitioner] would control himself were he to represent himself during trial.” And because the right to self-representation is not absolute, the trial court found that petitioner had forfeited his right to represent himself through his continued disruptive behavior. During jury draw, outside of potential jurors’ presence, Attorney Maguire expressed his desire to withdraw as petitioner’s counsel, citing threats of physical violence to himself and his family. The trial court denied Attorney Maguire’s motion to withdraw, but allowed a deputy sheriff, described as a legal assistant, to be seated between Attorney Maguire and petitioner throughout the trial. Petitioner was ultimately convicted and sentenced to eighteen to twenty years to serve. Petitioner filed his pro se motion for postconviction relief in February 2013. In March 2015, Attorney Paul Volk, an expert appointed by the trial court and compensated by the Defender General, filed an expert-opinion report with the PCR court after an independent legal review wherein he explained that he found ineffective counsel for some, but not all, of the reasons alleged in petitioner’s original petition. However, the post-conviction court denied relief. The Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error in the PCR court's judgment and affirmed. View "In re James Burke" on Justia Law

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The Washington South Education Association was the representative of all licensed teachers within the Northfield schools. The Northfield School Board and the Association negotiated and entered into the CBA, which was in effect from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. Paul Clayton was a middle-school physical-education teacher at the Northfield Middle High School (the School) and was a member of the Association. Therefore, Clayton’s employment was subject to the CBA. In late fall 2017, administrators at the School received complaints about Clayton’s workplace conduct. The complaints alleged that Clayton created a hostile work environment by intimidating his colleagues and advised a student (his daughter) to punch another student in the face. In response to the allegations, Clayton was placed on paid leave while the administrators investigated the complaints and interviewed a number of the School’s staff. Upon the conclusion of their investigation, the administrators wrote a letter to the School’s superintendent describing their findings and noting that while they gave Clayton the opportunity to respond, Clayton declined to respond in a follow-up meeting and then a second meeting scheduled to receive his rebuttal a few days later. After receiving the administrators’ letter, the superintendent wrote a letter to Clayton offering him an opportunity to meet with her to discuss the matter, and attached to the letter a summary of the allegations against Clayton. About a week later, the superintendent met with Clayton and his Association representation. Clayton did not file a notice of appeal of his ultimate suspension. Shortly thereafter, Clayton and the Association, now represented by the Vermont affiliate of the National Education Association (Vermont-NEA), submitted a grievance alleging a violation the CBA. The Board declined to accept the grievance, noting Clayton did not follow the prescribed termination procedures outlined in the CBA. Vermont-NEA thereafter invoked the CBA's arbitration procedures. A trial court agreed with the Board, and Clayton and the Association appealed. The Vermont Supreme Court determined Clayton and the Association failed to exhaust statutory remedies as required by 16 V.S.A. 1752, thus the trial court properly enjoined arbitration. View "Northfield School Board v. Washington South Education Association" on Justia Law

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Petitioner and her spouse adopted their son through Department for Children and Families in 2003. As part of the adoption process, petitioner entered into an adoption-assistance agreement with DCF, which provided for a daily subsidy payment of $50.69. Per the agreement’s terms, both the adoptive parent and DCF had to agree to any changes. Shortly before the child turned eighteen, DCF notified petitioner the existing agreement would terminate on the child's birthday. In the February 2017 notification letter, DCF explained that the child might be eligible for an “Over Age 18 Adoption Assistance Agreement” if the child had been diagnosed with a lifelong physical or mental disability, and it described the application process. In a March 2017 letter, DCF offered petitioner what it characterized as a “separate” and “over-age-18” adoption-assistance agreement at a daily rate of $27.59. The new rate was the maximum available standard rate for children in foster care. Petitioner appealed the amount of the subsidy to the Board, arguing federal law prohibited DCF from unilaterally modifying the amount of the adoption-assistance subsidy when the child turned eighteen. Petitioner maintained that DCF had to negotiate the amount with the adoptive parents. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded federal law did not preclude DCF from adopting a policy, and entering into adoption-assistance agreements that offered reduced adoption-assistance subsidies to adoptive parents of qualifying children over eighteen. View "In re Appeal of McSweeney" on Justia Law

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Defendant Robin O’Neill appealed after she was convicted for the aggravated murder of her ex-fiancé and his son. She argued the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction; that her statements to police should have been suppressed because they were the product of custodial interrogation without an attorney after she invoked her right to one; and that those statements should have been suppressed because the police coerced her into making them, depriving her of due process. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held the evidence sufficiently and fairly supported the conviction; and that the statements defendant sought to suppress were not made in response to police interrogation, and were not the product of police coercion, thus were properly admitted. View "Vermont v. O'Neill" on Justia Law

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Defendant Michael Abel was charged with numerous crimes in October 2015 based on allegations that he harmed and threatened to harm the complainant, his cohabitating partner, and the parties’ three children, then ages one, three, and five. He was convicted by jury on two counts of domestic assault. On appeal, he argued both convictions arose from the same assaultive incident in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Defendant also argued the trial court committed plain error in its jury instructions. Finding no errors, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Abel" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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This matter stemmed from a trial court order finding defendant-appellant Richard Daniels liable for the release of hazardous waste on his property, granting summary judgment in favor of the State, and issuing an injunction compelling defendant to investigate and conduct remedial action on the property site. On appeal, defendant contested the award of summary judgment to the State and the scope of the injunction ordered by the court, and he contended the court erred in denying his motion to revisit his statute-of-limitations defense. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. Parkway Cleaners et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Bernard Rougeau appealed a trial court’s requirement that he post $100,000 cash or surety bond to mitigate any potential risk that he flee from prosecution. He was being held in custody for failure to post bail while he awaited trial on three counts: aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer by threatening with a deadly weapon, and interference with access to emergency services. In October 2018, defendant’s sister telephoned the state police to report that defendant was suicidal and had cut himself. The police arrived at the home and an officer located defendant outside, emerging from the surrounding woods, armed. According to the affidavit of probable cause, the officer warned him to drop the weapon, yet defendant advanced toward the officer, still holding the gun. Then defendant raised the firearm. In that moment, according to the affidavit, the officer shot defendant in the abdomen. Defendant was taken into custody and airlifted to Albany Medical Center to treat his wounds. In November 2018, he waived extradition from New York and was arraigned in Vermont on the above-three counts. The State argued that defendant’s charges involved a “mental health break,” threats of self-harm, and a firearm. Moreover, “an individual who flees into the woods with a firearm, indicating to his mother that he wants to be shot by the police, poses a significant risk of flight.” The State also recounted defendant’s criminal history, which involved felony convictions for arson, DUI III, multiple contempt-of-court convictions, and a failure to appear. The trial court concluded defendant posed a flight risk, and set bail based on his criminal record, the seriousness of the offenses, and the nature and circumstances of those offenses. On appeal, defendant challenged the imposition of bail and the amount of bail imposed. Finding no reversible error or abuse of discretion, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Rougeau" on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Bergquist appealed after a jury convicted him of sexually assaulting his seven-year-old daughter, A.B. On appeal, defendant raised multiple arguments challenging the trial court’s: (1) admission of A.B.’s out-of-court statements pursuant to Vermont Rule of Evidence 804a; (2) exclusion of certain evidence concerning A.B.’s mother’s state of mind and conduct; (3) ruling allowing A.B. to testify out of defendant’s presence pursuant to Vermont Rule of Evidence 807(f); (4) denial of discovery of some of A.B.’s mental-health records; and (5) admission of expert testimony that he argues improperly “vouched” for A.B.’s credibility. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed defendant's conviction. View "Vermont v. Bergquist" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Darryl Montague sued Hundred Acre Homestead, a therapeutic residential community, after a resident of Hundred Acre shot him at the shooting range he owned. He invoked two theories of liability: (1) that as the resident’s mental-health provider, Hundred Acre breached a duty to take reasonable steps to protect him from the resident by warning him of the danger she posed; and (2) Hundred Acre breached a duty to him by accepting and retaining the resident for care in violation of applicable Vermont regulations. Montague appealed the superior court’s dismissal of both. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review reduced to whether one who provides residential care for an individual had a tort-law duty to warn a potential victim of violence by that individual when that potential victim is neither individually identified or identifiable, nor a member of a discrete identified or identifiable class of potential victims. The Court concluded both theories of negligence failed because neither established that Hundred Acre had a cognizable legal duty to protect Montague enforceable through a private tort action. View "Montague v. Hundred Acre Homestead, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant Timothy O'Keefe was tried by jury and convicted on two counts of violation of an abuse protection order (VAPO), second offense. The Vermont Supreme Court found the State failed to prove defendant was validly served with the order he was accused of violating, and reversed. View "Vermont v.O'Keefe" on Justia Law