Tag Archives: Bill Sorrell

If a Candidate Waffles in the Forest, Does Anybody Hear?

I haven’t spent a lot of time covering this year’s debates, mainly because there are so damn many of ’em that I could spend all my time doing nothing but that, and there’s too much other stuff to write about.

Debates are considered key moments in a campaign. Candidates spend a lot of time preparing for them. Staffers dissect performances and adjust tactics for future encounters. But how many people pay attention?

Well, we’ve got a pretty good test case before us, and the answer is “hardly anybody.”

Last night, VTDigger hosted a debate for the two Democrats running for attorney general. By Digger’s own account, the affair highlighted some key disagreements between Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault and Charity Clark, who was ex-attorney general TJ Donovan’s chief of staff.

After it was live-streamed, the debate was posted on YouTube. As of this writing, it has been viewed 645 times.

Six hundred forty-five. For comparison, the last time the Democrats had a competitive AG primary was in 2012 when Donovan challenged Sorrell and nearly won. 41,600 people voted in the primary.

That’s, um, [checks notes] a lot more than 645.

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The Battle for Molly Gray’s Wikipage (Updated with source credit below)

On November 29, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s Wikipedia page was edited 34 separate times. Most of the traffic involved minor adds or corrections, but some of it was aimed at turning the page into campaign propaganda — and counter-efforts to restore content removed or altered by the propagandists.

The lead actor in this one-day drama was “Alaenahunt.” The AH account on Wikipedia was created at 3:41 p.m. on November 29. AH made eight edits to Gray’s Wikipage between 4:12 and 7:35 p.m., and has done nothing since then. “Alaenahunt” is presumably a pseudonym; editors can post biographical information but they don’t have to, and AH didn’t. But it’s obvious that AH is either a very staunch Gray supporter or a member of her campaign team. AH’s deletions involved potentially controversial material; additions read as though they were lifted straight from Gray campaign material.

This sort of thing has happened before. In 2016, when former state Senator Peter Galbraith made a doomed run for governor, an editor named “Devotedamerican” repeatedly added positive material and deleted negative stuff from Galbraith’s Wikipage. That editor was repeatedly upbraided by other Wikifolk for obvious shilling.

On three days in May 2012, when then-attorney general Bill Sorrell faced a challenge from then-Chittenden County state’s attorney (and current AG) TJ Donovan, there was a torrent of activity on Sorrell’s Wikipage. Until then it had been a stub with very little information. Suddenly, an anonymous user started adding whole chunks of favorable material and deleting the unfavorable. It basically turned the page into a campaign ad for Sorrell.

Wikipedia has rules about such things; you’re not supposed to engage in advocacy, opinion, scandal mongering, self-promotion or advertising/PR. But it happens.

Now, let’s follow the Molly Gray Wikitrail.

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Boo This Man

It’s possible, in this moment of his ultimate disgrace, to feel just a little bit sorry for ex-governor Peter Shumlin. From fall 2014 to summer 2015, he endured three separate political de-pantsings — any one of which could have felled a lesser man in his tracks. First, his near-defeat at the hands of political outsider (and truly terrible campaigner) Scott Milne; then, having to admit failure in his signature push for single-payer health care; and then, in the spring of 2015, finding out that the Quiros/Stenger EB-5 projects were built on fiscal and ethical quicksand.

That said, his governorship will have to go down in history as singularly disastrous.

We know this now because of the dogged efforts of VTDigger to unearth a trove of documents kept secret by state officials. Its pursuit of the EB-5 White Whale was rewarded last week by a federal judge’s ruling that the documents must be made public.

And now, after poring their way through the docs, Alan Keays and Anne Galloway have published one of the most damning political pieces in recent memory. They recount how Shumlin and his team knew by the spring of 2015 that the EB-5 projects were fundamentally fraudulent and doomed to collapse… and yet they kept on flogging the projects for a full year. Their efforts only ended in the spring of 2016 when the feds launched a massive civil suit against Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros.

That’s bad. But Keays and Galloway document a variety of ways in which the story is even worse than that dreadful topline. Let’s run the highlights, shall we?

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Our AG Executes the Rare Double Holiday Weekend Newsdump

Fuzzier and fuzzier…

Last Thursday was New Year’s Eve, the beginning of a long holiday weekend. What better time for a politician to dump potentially damaging news?

And yep, there was Attorney General T.J. Donovan issuing not one, but two press releases on Thursday afternoon the first at 2:31 and the second at 3:14. Each showcased the less progressive, and reflexively law ‘n order, side of him.

First came news that Donovan was dropping of multiple serious felony charges against former St. Albans police officer Zachary Pigeon and his father Allen, for allegedly removing a woman from her home and assaulting her. The woman had come forward with accusations that Zachary had sexually assaulted her some years ago when she was a child. Donovan made the decision because he could not “meet the elements of the charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt at this time.”

This case had been filed by the Franklin County State’s Attorney, who apparently saw grounds for prosecution. But the SA punted the case up to Donovan due to conflicts of interest. And now Donovan is tossing it out the window.

The exact opposite tack was taken in the second press release, which touted a state Supreme Court ruling in the case of State v. Alta Gurung, which means that a new competency hearing will be conducted for Gurung.

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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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