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The chief of Vermont’s trial courts is retiring after 17 years as a judge, including seven as chief superior judge, the state Supreme Court has announced.

Chief Judge Brian Grearson will retire Nov. 1.

“Vermont’s judiciary is a vital institution of democracy that ensures equal justice under the law,” Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber said in a statement on Friday. “Judge Grearson’s work in support of the courts has been distinctive, accruing to the benefit of every person in our great state.”

The court also said that Superior Judge Thomas A. Zonay of Hartland will succeed Grearson.

The chief superior judge supervises and oversees the administrative responsibilities of the judicial officers who serve in the state superior court and trial courts.

Zonay was appointed as a superior judge in 2007. Before being named a judge Zonay practiced law in Rutland and Woodstock for 18 years. Zonay also has served as president of the Vermont Bar Association and the New England Bar Association.

“He is a knowledgeable, hardworking and committed public servant,” Reiber said of Zonay. “I wish him all the best in his new role.”


An Eastern Shore judge who was about to be arrested at his home was found dead Friday, officials said.

Federal and local officials said FBI agents went to the residence of Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Newell in Henderson, Maryland, early Friday morning to arrest him on a federal criminal complaint.

He was under investigation for sexual exploitation of a child, according to a federal affidavit.

“Upon entering the residence the agents found Newell suffering from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” a joint statement from Acting Maryland U.S. Attorney Jonathan Lenzner and other officials said. “He was pronounced dead at 6:43 a.m. Maryland State Police will lead the investigation into the apparent suicide.”


With abortion and guns already on the agenda, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is considering adding a third blockbuster issue — whether to ban consideration of race in college admissions.

The justices could say as soon as Monday whether they will hear an appeal claiming that Harvard discriminates against Asian American applicants, in a case that could have nationwide repercussions. The case would not be argued until the fall or winter.

“It would be a big deal because of the nature of college admissions across the country and because of the stakes of having this issue before the Supreme Court,” said Gregory Garre, who twice defended the University of Texas’ admissions program before the justices.

The presence of three appointees of former President Donald Trump could prompt the court to take up the case, even though it’s only been five years since its last decision in a case about affirmative action in higher education.

In that Texas case, the court reaffirmed in a 4-3 decision that colleges and universities may consider race in admissions decisions. But they must do so in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity, the court said in a decision that rejected the discrimination claims of a white applicant. Schools also bear the burden of showing why their consideration of race is appropriate.

Two members of that four-justice majority are gone from the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September. Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018.


The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday condemned the alarming number of killings and threats against lawyers and judges. One legal group has said these attacks are considerably higher under President Rodrigo Duterte compared to the past 50 years under six former presidents.

The 15-member high court asked lower courts, law enforcement agencies and lawyers and judges’ groups to provide information about such attacks in the last 10 years, in order for the court to take preemptive steps. The attacks, it said, endanger the rule of law in an Asian bastion of democracy.

“To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands,” the high court said in a rare, strongly-worded censure of the attacks. “This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours.”

The court said it would not “tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles and speculate on the worth of human lives.”

The Free Legal Assistance Group, a prominent group of lawyers, said at least 61 lawyers have been killed in the five years of Duterte’s presidency compared to at least 25 lawyers and judges slain under six presidents since 1972, when dictator Ferdinand Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law.

Lawyers’ groups said the court’s denunciation was long overdue but nevertheless welcomed it. “We have been sounding out the clarion call and providing information and concrete recommendations for the longest time,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, who heads the left-wing National Union of People’s Lawyers.

A number of lawyers who represented suspected drug dealers or were linked to the illegal drug trade were among those gunned down under Duterte’s rule. When he took office in mid-2016, Duterte launched a massive anti-drug crackdown that has left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead and alarmed Western governments and human rights groups.


Attorneys who represent clients in the medical marijuana industry are concerned they might face discipline under a state Supreme Court directive that appears to put federal law in conflict with state law.

The directive, which took effect July 1, says attorneys cannot participate in — or advise clients how to participate in — acts that are illegal under federal law but legal under state law. Medical marijuana is illegal under federal law but was approved by Missouri voters in 2018.

Attorney Dan Viets, of Columbia, who represents medical marijuana clients, said he recently asked the state Supreme Court Advisory Committee whether he could be disciplined under the directive, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Viets said attorneys drafting the 2018 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana anticipated the conflict and included protections in the amendment’s text for attorneys working in the legal marijuana industry.

The Missouri amendment says, in part: “An attorney shall not be subject to disciplinary action by the state bar association or other professional licensing body for owning, operating, investing in, being employed by, contracting with, or providing legal assistance to prospective or licensed” medical cannabis businesses.

“I was very concerned,” Viets said, adding the state Supreme Court’s directive “appears to contradict the Missouri Constitution. ... I just don’t understand how the court can do that.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling followed the filing of more than 800 lawsuits by medical marijuana entrepreneurs who had been denied business licenses by the state after a controversial application process.

Beth Riggert, spokeswoman for the Missouri Supreme Court, said the court would not comment on the order.



The city of Albuquerque and the U.S. Department of Justice have proposed a plan to temporarily assist Albuquerque Police Department internal affairs investigators.

An outside team is expected to correct issues as they arise and train detectives on how to improve their job performance, the Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday.

The proposal was outlined in a stipulated order filed in federal court and agreed to by the city, the justice department and an independent monitor overseeing a police reform effort.

The plan is a response to a November report by independent monitor James Ginger that said the police department failed at every level to regulate itself.

Ginger evaluated progress the city made in compliance with a settlement agreement resulting from a 2014 justice department finding that officers showed a pattern and practice of excessive force.

In his analysis for Feb. 1 through July 31, 2020, Ginger found officers failed to report use of force, detectives in the Internal Affairs Force Division were “going through the motions” and the department leadership allowed subpar work that was approved by the department’s chief at the time.

Chief Michael Geier was asked to step down partly because of the report. Deputy Chief Harold Medina now serves as interim head of the department.

Medina said in a statement that the department welcomes the resources and expertise while changing its use-of-force investigations.

“While this is a temporary solution, our longer-term goal is to build an internal investigative process that addresses the overall reform of the department,” Medina said.


President-elect Joe Biden has selected Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge who in 2016 was snubbed by Republicans for a seat on the Supreme Court, as his attorney general, two people familiar with the selection process said Wednesday.

In picking Garland, Biden is turning to an experienced judge who held senior positions at the Justice Department decades ago, including as a supervisor of the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The pick will force Senate Republicans to contend with the nomination of someone they spurned four years ago — refusing even to hold hearings when a Supreme Court vacancy arose — but Biden is banking on Garland’s credentials and reputation for moderation to ensure confirmation.

Biden is expected to announce Garland’s appointment on Thursday, along with other senior leaders of the department, including former homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general and former Justice Department civil rights chief Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general, the No. 3 official. He will also name an assistant attorney general for civil rights, Kristen Clarke, the president of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group.

Garland was selected over other finalists including former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. The people familiar with the process spoke on condition of anonymity. One said Biden regards Garland as an attorney general who can restore integrity to the Justice Department and as someone who, having worked as both a federal prosecutor and a high-level supervisor inside the agency, will enjoy the respect of nonpartisan career staff.

Garland’s confirmation prospects were solidified as Democrats on Wednesday scored control of the Senate majority by winning both Georgia Senate seats.

Garland would confront immediate challenges if confirmed, including an ongoing criminal tax investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, as well as calls from many Democrats to pursue inquiries into President Donald Trump after he leaves office. A special counsel investigation into the origins of the Russia probe also remains open, forcing a new attorney general to decide how to handle it and what to make public.

Garland would also inherit a Justice Department that has endured a tumultuous four years and abundant criticism from Democrats over what they see as the overpoliticization of law enforcement. The department is expected to dramatically change course under new leadership, including through a different approach to civil rights issues and national policing policies, especially after months of mass protests over the deaths of Black Americans at the hand of law enforcement.

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