Phil Scott names top Orleans County prosecutor as Superior Court judge

Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett. Courtesy picture

Governor Phil Scott on Tuesday appointed Orleans County State Attorney Jennifer Barrett as a Vermont Superior Court judge.

Barrett, a Newport resident, has served as Orleans County’s top prosecutor since 2015 – and is expected to appear unopposed on the ballot to retain that seat in November, after securing Republican and Democratic nominations in primaries earlier this month.

She is expected to step down from her current post to become a judge and is expected to step down again in January if re-elected.

That means the governor can decide who will be the next Orleans County prosecutor — not just for the few months remaining in Barrett’s current term, but for the next four years of the next term.

Prior to Barrett’s current role, she served as an assistant state attorney in Orleans and Bennington counties. She was born in Brattleboro and graduated from Champlain College in Burlington and the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

Scott called Barrett ‘very impressive’ at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, adding that he believed she had the ‘energy’ and ‘motivation’ to help the justice system overcome a backlog of court cases. that have accumulated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Barrett would replace former Superior Court Judge Nancy Waples on the state trial court bench. Scott nominated Waples to the Vermont Supreme Court in February.

Since taking office in January 2017, Scott has made a total of 12 Superior Court judicial appointments, including six women and six men.

At least eight had extensive criminal prosecution histories, including the appointment of two state attorneys – with Barrett’s selection – as well as the head of the criminal division of the Vermont attorney general’s office.

The salary of a Superior Court judge is $167,449.

In response to a question at the press conference, Scott said the timing of his selection had “nothing to do with the election” and that he did not know when Barrett’s tenure as prosecutor the state has expired.

Jason Maulucci, the governor’s spokesman, made that point in an email in response to further questions. “The timing of the election was not brought up throughout the process, and that was not a consideration at all,” Maulucci said, adding that candidates could still conduct written campaigns.

Eleanor Spottswood, chair of the Vermont Judicial Nominating Board and solicitor general in the attorney general’s office, said Tuesday that the board forwarded four names to the governor for consideration for the June 15 judgeship.

Maulucci said forensic selections “tend to take longer” to “allow ample time for interviews and thorough reference checks, given the significance of the nominations.”

Implications for the Ballot

An official with the Vermont secretary of state’s office said that unless Barrett removes his name from the general election ballot, a registered candidate would have to receive more votes than Barrett to win.

State law dictates that the deadline for candidates to withdraw is 10 days after the primary election, which this year was Aug. 19, according to Will Senning, chief election officer for the secretary’s office. State of Vermont.

Aug. 26 was the deadline for nominations to fill positions people had withdrawn from, Senning said.

But, he said, state law contains another clause that gives candidates until the ballot printing deadline to notify polling officials — in most cases, the office of the Secretary of State – that they wish to retire.

“It’s a unique law as far as I’m concerned,” Senning said. “I think the meaning is that if we have a way to keep your name on the ballot – let’s say if you die – we’re going to do whatever we can to get your name off the ballot.”

If Barrett’s name was removed from the ballot before printing, he said, the candidate with the most write-in votes would become the state’s attorney.

Barrett did not return phone and email messages Tuesday seeking comment.

Senning said Tuesday afternoon that he had not heard Barrett ask to have his name removed from the ballot. “I could still probably take it off at that point,” Senning said. “(Wednesday) would probably be the last day.”

Barrett’s appointment as judge means she would have to resign as state’s attorney because she couldn’t serve as both prosecutor and judge, Senning said, allowing the governor to fill in the remaining portion of his current term until January.

If Barrett wins the general election, she will have to resign because she cannot be both a prosecutor and a judge, he said. The governor would then have to make another appointment, possibly the same person, to fill the new four-year term.

“That’s what makes the most sense,” Senning said. “I don’t have any precedent that I can cite or even any law that spells it out, but just for practical consideration, this is what I think would make the most sense.”

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