Tag Archives: Bill Sorrell

A complete failure of justice

Gotta hand it to USA TODAY (all caps, as God intended) for uncovering the distressing case of Leonard Forte, a retired cop from New York state who was accused and convicted in 1988 of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old Vermont girl. His conviction was overturned on appeal, and that’s when things got weird. In 1995, facing a second trial, Forte claimed he was on death’s door and that the stress of a trial would surely kill him.

And then… nothing.

For almost 25 years.

Well, not entirely “nothing”. The case would occasionally get another look, Forte would claim ill health, and back into the deep freeze it went.

If USA TODAY is to be believed, the prosecutor overseeing the case — longtime assistant attorney general David Tartter — wasn’t exactly devoting a lot of energy to it. “Neglect” seems the best descriptor for his approach.

Meanwhile, the accuser is now 45 years old and living with the consequences of the assault. Forte is 78 and still claims to be dying, but has been enjoying a pretty decent retirement in Florida. And the chances of bringing him to justice appeared faint, thanks to this:

The USA TODAY Network found that Vermont officials have destroyed materials key to the prosecution of Forte, including most of the original trial record. The mistaken destruction of transcripts and court audio recordings appears to be due to the unprecedented age of the case, by far the oldest open prosecution in Vermont and certainly one of the oldest in the country where the defendant is not a fugitive.

… Michele Dinko, the alleged victim, said in a recent interview that Tartter has expressed to her that he has little hope left of prosecuting Forte. Dinko said Tartter also told her privately that having the case loom over Forte for so many decades is its own kind of punishment.

That’d be a hard “no,” Mr. Tartter.

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TJ, We Hardly Knew Ye

Return with me now to the halcyon days of 2012, when Peter Shumlin was still popular and a fresh-faced young prosecutor from up Burlington way took on the seemingly impossible task of challenging Vermont’s Eternal General Bill Sorrell in the Democratic primary. Sorrell had held the office of attorney general since 1997 and had been repeatedly re-elected, as is our general custom with statewide officeholders other than governor. Many believed that by 2012, ol’ Billy was long past his sell-by date. Others thought he wasn’t particularly qualified in the first place, but those people are obvious malcontents. (Like, for instance, the late Peter Freyne.)

Ultimately, thanks to a last-ditch infusion of cash on Sorrell’s behalf from the Democratic Attorneys General Association, TJ Donovan’s bid to unseat the incumbent came up just a little bit short. Sorrell won the primary by a puny 714 votes out of more than 41,000 cast.

But Donovan was widely hailed for his chutzpah and, more to the point, for very nearly pulling it off.

So let me ask you this. Whatever happened to that brave, headstrong young man with a limitless political future?

I mean, there’s A Guy named TJ Donovan around. In fact, he became AG in the 2016 election, after Sorrell retired. He looks a lot like the ambitious young pol of 2012, but as time goes by, he’s acting more and more like his predecessor.

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Time to get serious about public campaign financing

So a federal judge has upheld the constitutionality of Vermont’s public financing law. Too bad he couldn’t rule on the ridiculousness of the law, because that decision would have gone very differently.

In the wake of his ruling, two things have to be addressed ASAP. First, the absurdly punitive $72,000 fine imposed on Dean Corren for a piddly-ass technical violation of the law. Imposed by that self-righteous hypocrite, Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell.

There is no way in Hell that Corren should have to imperil his personal finances because the Democratic Party included him in an e-mail message. The value of that “impermissible contribution”? $255, if I remember correctly.

Fining a guy $72,000 for what was, at most, a petty violation is like sending a guy to jail for not feeding the parking meter. It mocks the very concept of justice.

Okay, that’s number one, and I don’t care how we do it. If it involves a sock full of quarters applied to Sorrell’s noggin and a bit of backroom “persuasion,” so be it. Well, maybe the Darn Tough Convincer is a bit much; let’s just tase him. (He shouldn’t mind; given his record on police brutality cases, he must think getting tased is no big deal.)

The second issue is the public financing law itself. It’s a joke. It’s so restrictive that it seems designed to prevent candidates from using it.

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Vermont’s public financing system is worse than useless

Before this year, our mechanism for public campaign financing was woefully limited and seemingly designed to discourage potential candidates. The excessive and punitive rules resulted in the only person ever to gain public financing, Dean Corren, facing an overzealous prosecution by Attorney General Bill Sorrell, our deeply tainted Guardian of Electoral Purity.

But that’s the good news.

The bad news is, the whole system has suddenly become a cruel joke. It’s so bad that unless the Legislature can bring itself to enact a simpler, more generous process, I’d just as soon they kill the thing. In its current state, it’s an insult to the very ideals it purports to uphold.

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Our mental health sandcastle, part 1

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

— Matthew 7:26

Here’s something that close observers won’t find surprising at all: fresh signs of trouble in Vermont’s mental health care system. In my next post: staffing shortages and other troubles in the system’s crown jewel, the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital. This time: Again with the Brattleboro Retreat.

The Vermont attorney general’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into the Brattleboro Retreat following a whistleblower’s complaints about alleged Medicaid fraud at the private psychiatric hospital, The Associated Press has learned.

Ruh-roh. The AP’s Dave Gram quotes AG Bill Sorrell as characterizing the probe as “not narrow in scope,” and that it goes beyond the whistleblower’s complaint into other areas.

As for that complaint:

[Former Retreat staffer Thomas] Joseph alleged a yearslong pattern of instances in which, if overcharges showed up in patient accounts, Retreat staff would not make refunds but instead would change the account to reflect a balance of zero.

If the accusations are true, the Retreat would be in deep shit with Medicaid, which (according to Gram) supplies the Retreat with roughly one-fourth of its total funding.

Yeah, that’s not an enemy you want to make.

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The Vermont Yankee Lie

Well, I guess I’ve got to get my elephant gun, because an irrepressible little Republican gnat is buzzing in my ear again.

The metaphorical “gnat” in this case is a favored lie among Vermont Republicans: that Democrats are to blame for the closing of Vermont Yankee, thus robbing our state of putatively “clean” energy (as long as you can ensure thousands of centuries of safe storage, heh) and hundreds of good-paying jobs.

The latest shibboleth-repeater is one Scot Shumski, member of the Burlington School Board and spectacularly unsuccessful candidate for the House in 2014. (For those keeping score at home, he got whomped by Dem Jean O’Sullivan by a nearly 3-1 margin.) He took to the Twitterverse on a hot Monday afternoon:

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Welcome aboard, Governor

Seemingly out of nowhere today, Governor Shumlin threw his support behind the idea of an independent state Ethics Commission. The idea’s gotten a lot of push in recent months, thanks to a string of public-sector embarrassments including (but not limited to) Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s squicky relationships with big national law firms, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell’s landing a state job after he’d lobbied for its creation, the revelation that longtime lawmaker Norm McAllister is (allegedly) a felony-class sleazeball, and most recently, Brent Raymond’s overnight transformation from EB-5 regulator to EB-5 project manager.

So congratulations, Governor, for finally seeing the bright, glaring, blinding light.

His spokesperson Scott Coriell claims, according to VTDigger, that “Wednesday was the first time, to his knowledge, that the governor had been asked whether he supports such a commission.”

That might be true in the narrowest of senses. But until now, Shumlin has been down on the general idea of tougher ethics standards, insisting that we’re all good Vermonters, we all know each other, and we’re above this sort of tawdry behavior. But hey, better late than never.

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Seven Shades of Nothing

After a couple of big surprises Wednesday morning, the rest of Campaign Finance Filing Day was rather a damp squib. Nothing much was revealed. Unless, that is, the “nothing” is in itself significant.

And I wouldn’t be a political blogger if I couldn’t make something from nothing.

And so, theVPO presents the top seven nothings and what they might mean.

In the race for Governor, four of the five top prospective candidates did nothing. A marginal hopeful did the same. As for the potential Democratic faceoff for Attorney General, neither incumbent Bill Sorrell not declared challenger TJ Donovan reported any new activity.

None of this is terribly surprising. Among those potential gubernatorial candidates, only Matt Dunne had an existing campaign structure (dormant since 2010) to accept donations. And by Vermont standards, it’s still extremely early for anyone to be beating the bushes.

The two likeliest Democratic candidates for governor not named Dunne, Shap Smith and Sue Minter, didn’t seek funds for a corner-office run. Smith reported a bit of fundraising for his State House campaign kitty, easily transferable should the need arise. This leaves Dunne with a sizeable lead — but there’s a lot of time to catch up. In this regard, Dunne’s dollar total is less significant than his ability to quickly sign up a brace of top-tier liberal donors in Vermont and in Silicon Valley.

On the Republican side, the losing 2012 nominee, Randy Brock, didn’t report anything. The putative front-runner, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, didn’t do any new fundraising — but he has nearly $100,000 left over from his 2014 campaign, so he’s definitely in no hurry.

And then there’s Dan Feliciano, former Libertarian turned kinda Republican, who’s been pondering a second run for governor.

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Like it or not, the Vermont Legislature needs to address ethics

Secretary of State Jim Condos is making a welcome, and timely, push for an independent State Ethics Commission. In a press release issued this morning, he also called for “a clear law regarding ethics, conflicts of interest, and financial disclosure for our elected officials.”

This really shouldn’t be an issue; we are one of only three states without such a body. And in a year that’s already seen Attorney General Bill Sorrell facing an independent investigation, a sitting Senator arrested on felony charges on the Statehouse grounds, significant questions about the Senate President Pro Tem, and a secretive House Ethics Panel with a very permissive interpretation of “ethics,” you’d think we could dispense with the old “We’re Vermonters, we do the right thing, we don’t need an ethics law” argument.

I mean, if anybody still believes that, they’re whistling past the graveyard.

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If it didn’t happen in the Free Press, it didn’t happen

The Burlington Free Press takes tremendous pride in its scoops. Front-page placement, social media bragging. It’ll also follow up endlessly, whether fresh developments warrant it or not. And sometimes the “scoops” aren’t worth the paper they’re (at least for now) printed on.

Its pride in the Liquor Control Commission overtime affair is justified. Mike Donoghue discovered an abuse of the system and aired it out. One result: the amazingly well-timed retirement of Commissioner Michael Hogan.

Great. Good work. But I find it awfully curious that while the Free Press has devoted lots and lots of space to the LCC, it has published exactly one story — count it, one — about Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s refusal to investigate himself for possible campaign finance violations.

And that one story was an Associated Press production. No staff time whatsoever, as far as I can tell.

The only explanation I can think of: the story originated in Seven Days. The Free Press can’t claim credit; it’d just be playing catch-up.

If that’s not enough to get your Spidey Sense tingling, how about the fact that the Free Press has published not a word about State Police Corporal Jon Graham’s Facebook posts? The story first broke Friday night on WCAX, and has been widely re-reported elsewhere. But not in the Free Press (or on FreePressMedia).

Stories like these are usually catnip for the Free Press: allegations of official misconduct, of a kind that’s sure to generate pageviews and controversy.

Sorrell is supposedly testifying before a Senate committee this afternoon. I expect the Free Press will be there, and will report on the story — because now, it’ll have a fresh hook to hang the story on, and won’t have to credit Paul Heintz for the scoop.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. But the Free Press’ track record informs my cynicism. And for the life of me, I can think of no other explanation for Our Former Newspaper Of Record almost completely ignoring two significant stories in state government.