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Vermont conservatives complain about justices' retention

Vermont conservatives complain about justices' retention

Conservative activists in Vermont are complaining that this year's hearings about whether state supreme court justices should get new six-year terms are rigged in the judiciary's favor. Opposition forces have focused on three supreme court justices whose decision led to the creation of the civil unions law for same-sex couples. Complaints are expected to be aired at a public hearing this week. "We are hoping to have a good turnout," said Virginia Duffy of Rutland, a former legislator and spokeswoman for the Citizen's Alliance for Judicial Accountability. Others say they're skeptical that their views will be heard. "The skids are greased and this is a show trial," said Kevin Blier, director of Vermont Renewal, a conservative public policy group. "The handwriting is more than just on the wall. It's pretty clear that review and retention, with everything the way it is, is just not legitimate." The legislature's eight-member judicial retention committee will hold two public hearings this week. Trial court judges will be the subject Tuesday at 7 p.m. The supreme court justices' retention will be the topic Thursday at 7 p.m. Both hearings are at the statehouse. Although the governor appoints judges, the Vermont legislature evaluates their performances every six years and votes in joint session by secret ballot whether to retain them. The retention committee is charged with scrutinizing each judge and making a recommendation to the general assembly. The retention vote is tentatively scheduled for March 17. Senate majority leader John Campbell (D-Windsor) said he did not anticipate problems for the justices. "It's going to be a colorful hearing," Campbell said. "I do not see problems with their retention, but I do foresee a lot of discussion." Opposition is focused on supreme court justices Denise Johnson, Marilyn Skoglund, and John Dooley, who served on the court in 1999 when the Baker v. Vermont decision on same-sex marriage rights was decided. Blier complained that one night's hearing was not enough for people to weigh in. "One hearing on one evening is wholly inadequate," Blier said. He would like to see a series of town hall meetings held around the state. Rep. William Lippert (D-Hinesburg), chairman of the Joint Judicial Retention Committee, said that everyone who wanted to speak could. "The public will be heard," he promised, but he noted that a single evening is the traditional amount of time allotted for public testimony on the supreme court justices. He noted that people could also submit written comments to the committee through Friday. "If for any reason it seems we aren't giving the public a full opportunity to be heard, we will look at other possibilities," Lippert said. (AP)

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