Gov. Peter Shumlin has appointed Judge Geoffrey Crawford to serve as the next associate justice in the Vermont Supreme Court.
Crawford will replace Justice Brian Burgess, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas in 2005. Burgess announced his retirement in April.
“Geoff’s compassion and his years of experience as a trial judge, where he has served with a collegial attitude and well-regarded intellect, will make him a very strong addition to the Supreme Court,” Shumlin said in a news release.
Crawford started his career practicing law for O’Neill, Crawford and Green in Burlington. He then served as a trial court judge before he was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Howard Dean to the state Superior Court in 2002. Most recently, he served as a judge in Chittenden Superior Court.
“It is a joy and a great honor to serve in the Vermont judiciary with so many dedicated staff members and fellow judges all working together to ensure justice for Vermonters. I am deeply grateful for this new opportunity,” Crawford said in a prepared statement.
It is difficult to predict how Shumlin’s appointee will affect future rulings by the court.
“I don’t know of Judge Crawford’s politics,” said Gerald Tarrant, member of the law firm Tarrant, Gillies, Merriman & Richardson.
Tarrant, who has argued before Crawford in court, said he and his colleagues cannot predict how Crawford is going to rule. They do know, however, that Crawford will tear their arguments apart.
“He’s just solid,” Tarrant said. “He is always digging to see if he can find the right answer.”
Tarrant said Crawford’s experience in the lower courts will add a valuable perspective to the bench. His predecessor, Burgess, had 12 years of experience as a District Court judge. Crawford will be a perfect replacement, Tarrant said, because he has a similar background.
It’s important to have trial experience as a justice, Tarrant said, because many of the issues that ascend to the state’s highest court involve procedural issues, such as whether the lower courts violated procedural rights.
Defender General Matthew Valerio said Shumlin’s nomination will add a moderate voice to the court.
“I see him as kind of a middle-of-the-road guy,” Valerio said. “You don’t point to him and say he was a rabid prosecutor or a pro-defense guy.”
Valerio said it is difficult to predict how Crawford will interpret constitutional law. In Superior Court, Crawford ruled based on the facts of each case. As a justice, Valerio said, he will be interpreting appeals, applying precedents and readings of the Vermont Constitution.
He said Crawford is known to respect precedent and will not likely try to persuade other justices to follow a broad interpretation of constitutional law.
“I see him as a collaborative kind of guy, a guy that works toward consensus,” Valerio said.
Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said Crawford will begin work within weeks. This will occur even before he is confirmed by the Senate, which he will surely pass, Lippert said.
In Vermont, voters do not elect justices. Instead, the governor appoints a justice from a list created by the judicial nomination board, an 11-member board designed for the nomination of Supreme Court justices, superior judges, magistrates, the chair of the Public Service Board and its members.
Crawford is Shumlin’s second nomination to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Last year, the governor appointed Beth Robinson to the court, a Vermont lawyer who served as co-counsel in the 1999 Baker v. Vermont case that led to adoption of the civil union law for gay couples.
The state’s other three top judges are Chief Justice Paul Reiber and associate justices John Dooley and Marilyn Skoglund.
Crawford is a board member of Dismas of Vermont in Burlington, as well as the New England Organ Bank. He is a past recipient of the Thibodeau-Wall Award for Community Service by the Howard Center, as well as the Catherine McAuley Award by Mercy Connection. He is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. He and his wife live in Burlington and have raised five children.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 5:53 p.m. Friday.