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State’s Attorney Candidates Discuss the Issues

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by The Bridge  staff

 

As part of its Republican coverage of this November’s election, The Bridge interviewed the two candidates for Washington County state’s attorney last week. Republican Tom Kelly, 60, has held the office since 2007. A Barre City resident, he is married and has six children. Scott Williams, 49, a the Democratic challenger, lives in Berlin with his wife and two children. He practices law in Barre.

Scott Williams

What alternatives do you see to jail for nonviolent offenders?

The Chittenden County Rapid Intervention Community Court is becoming a national model for alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration.  It … is available to non-violent offenders whose crimes have been driven by untreated addiction or mental illness. The program is designed as a pre-charge system through which offenders are quickly assessed using evidence-based screening tools and offered diversion to community programming, services and community-based accountability programs. The RICC staff work closely with the Chittenden County state’s attorney and the Burlington Police Department to identify individuals who may benefit from a rapid intervention program, without which they may re-offend and engage in conduct that is costly both to them and to the community.​

Would this be a good idea in Washington County?

Absolutely. … I actually liken this to how I raise my kids. The longer I delay my reaction to my kids’ behavior, the less effective my response is. This is a step towards an immediate response, as opposed to the traditional delayed response, which has not worked.

What issues do you have with Tom Kelly’s work and why do you think you could do better?

This year I was ranked by the National Trial Lawyers Association as a top-100 lawyer.

It’s common in his office for discovery [the prosecutor’s pre-trial transmission of evidence to the defense] to be late. It is common for information to be provided on the eve of trial, which creates a potential for problems for the state in prosecuting the case. It can weaken the state’s case. He is not a particularly well qualified trial attorney, despite his years of experience.

Why are you running?

As a defense attorney … I just saw that there are much better ways for that office to run. There’s a benefit for the community in this. [And] I like doing trial work. … I like the whole process, from picking a jury to getting a verdict.

Is the current prosecutorial system hurting kids with excessive punishments?

Yes. There are so many collateral consequences to convictions for crimes now that are not being considered. I think if you asked [Kelly about this], he would say, that’s not my consideration. …

We really need to be looking hard at people … [who] don’t have a record. … They can be diverted by my office. If they successfully complete [the diversion program], they don’t have a record. [Restorative justice] is voluntary. You can’t impose it. What Mr. Kelly’s office does is, this is part of the punishment. That’s not going to work.

What is restorative justice?

Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by identifying and taking steps to repair harm, involving all stakeholders, and transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime. ​In Washington County, this is done via the two restorative justice offices, located in Montpelier and Barre. These programs offer valuable restorative processes that can occur both as part of the traditional court system and outside of it. Our restorative justice centers have trained facilitators to work with victims and offenders to repair harm.

What measures would you carry out to help victims of crime?

Many victims are frustrated with how the system interacts with them. What I hear is they need better communication. so, just as a first step, the staff and the deputies and the state’s attorney have got to have a system where [the victims] know what’s happening with the case, and an explanation of what the outcome is going to be, so that even if they don’t agree with it, they can understand it.

 


Tom Kelly

What alternatives do you see to jail for nonviolent offenders?

Washington County alternatives to jail include the diversion program, which is where first-time offenders accused of minor crimes are diverted to a panel of volunteers who assign community service and provide an opportunity to apologize and pay restitution to maintain a clean record; restorative justice; fines; probation; and treatment court, which provides a relatively small number of serious, nonviolent offenders an opportunity to avoid jail by participating in intensive substance abuse treatment. With that goes frequent contact with a judge, who may impose jail or other sanctions, coupled with rewards for positive reinforcement. Treatment courts employing evidence-based models have reduced recidivism throughout the United States.

Could you explain restorative justice and give us your opinion of it?

Restorative justice is … an effort to repair the damage to the community and the family of the offender, not just the victims, and it’s an effort to make the offender realize the damage that’s been done, and make amends. The officer has the option of referring the charged person to the program.

Cases referred to us by the police would also be eligible for this pre-charge, alternative approach. … [Also,] the prosecutor has the option of sending the case to a post-charge restorative justice program. …

There’s another restorative program post-conviction. They’re convicted  and then they’re ordered to conduct a reparative program without probation. If they complete the program, the conviction stands, but there’s no further traditional penalty, such as fines, or jail or regular probation. The reparative approach is also used in the traditional probation.

To what extent are you using these approaches in your practice?

Every day. They’ve been available to us for years, all these programs.

Chittenden County has a model for rapid intervention. Do you support this?

Sure—I welcome any tool we can have to identify the needs of the offender.

Scott Williams has criticized you for late discovery and a lack of communication with victims of crime. How would you respond to these charges?

I’ve been doing this a long time. Is there a possibility that through the years someone has complained about some aspect of the job? Absolutely … [but] I think I have a reputation of being hard-working and competent, and that includes the discovery question.

There are lots of crimes with victims, and we have two very experienced and, I think, effective victim advocates in our office. … Their job is to stay in touch, and I think they do an excellent job.

Why are you running for re-election?

I’m doing what I set out to do when I became an attorney, and I think I’m still able to do it, and I’m thankful for the opportunity the people have given me.

Is the current prosecutorial system hurting kids with excessive punishments?

I don’t think so. … We were all there. We were all kids. I think the courts are sensitive. The ultimate reaction of a system to the accused is the court, the judge, and I think our judges do a great job with the young people. I think the system responds to offenders based upon their age, record of prior involvements and severity of the offense at hand.

What measures would you take to help victims of crime?

I think we’re doing that now, although I think we strive to do a better job every day.  We have two victims’ advocates who work closely with our prosecutors to communicate with victims of crimes.  Our advocates and prosecutors strive to listen to crime victims and try to address their needs and explain the criminal justice process and what they can expect.

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