Douglas reviews candidates for open Supreme Court seat

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he’s looking over a list of candidates to fill a vacancy on the Vermont Supreme Court. The governor says he could name an appointee within a few weeks to fill the first open seat on the bench since 1997. The vacancy occurred when Justice James Morse stepped down to take a position in the Douglas administration.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) An undisclosed number of applicants was first screened by the eleven-member Judicial Nominating Board, which includes legislators, lawyers and members appointed by the governor. In some ways applying for a seat on the Supreme Court is like applying for any other job: candidates fill out questionnaires, submit references and go to a job interview.

The interviews took place on two consecutive Saturdays this month. Board members also spent time talking to the prospective justice’s references. Each applicant had to submit the names of a personal reference, a professional reference and someone the candidate considered an adversary. Representative Peg Flory (R-Pittsford) is a member of the Judicial Nominating Board.

(Flory) “Surprisingly some of the references are brutally frank. They’ll say, ‘Gee, I really like this person, but I find – if it’s a judge – it takes the judge way too long to make a decision. Or if it’s an attorney, I find the attorney doesn’t work well with others.'”

(Zind) Flory says the board looked for candidates who had the right experience and the right temperament for the job. She says while politics didn’t come to the surface during the interview, board members did question applicants about ideology and approach to the law. Governor Douglas says he’ll do the same in his interviews.

(Douglas) “I certainly would not ask any perspective justice how he or she might rule on a particular case. I might ask about their judicial philosophy in general. I don’t want to apply any litmus test in terms of insisting that a candidate for associate justice react in a certain way to any particular set of circumstances, but I’m certainly interested in knowing a general philosophical approach to the cases that come before the court.”

(Zind) The governor says he could announce his choice to fill the empty seat on Vermont’s high court within a few weeks, or he could ask the board to come up with more names.

(Douglas) “As we all know in the recent past, there have been occasions where governors have rejected initial lists presented by the Judicial Nominating Board and asked for more candidates. But I really don’t know what they outcome might be at this point.”

(Zind) Flory says the Judicial Nominating Board gave Douglas a list of strong candidates. Both Douglas and Flory say experience on the bench is a plus for any potential candidate, since only one of the five current justices has trial court experience.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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