Energy critic Smith threatens suit to stop state probe of her work

Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment. Photo by Anne Galloway

Annette Smith is director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment. File photo by Anne Galloway/VTDigger

An attorney for Annette Smith has threatened to sue the state attorney general’s office if it doesn’t drop a criminal investigation of the prominent critic of renewable energy projects.

Assistant Attorney General Zachary Chen notified Smith last month in a letter that his office was investigating her on suspicion of unauthorized practice of law in connection with five cases before the Public Service Board.

Smith’s attorney David Sleigh said in a written response Friday that Vermont has no enforceable grounds for such a proceeding and that in any event his client never presented herself as an attorney or behaved as one.

He said the investigation arose from political machinations against his client.

“It’s entirely politically motivated,” Sleigh said in an interview Friday. “The people who have found Annette’s opposition to their desires frustrating are now attempting to use the government as their surrogate to shut her up. That’s about as low-down political as you can get.”

Through her nonprofit Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Smith has opposed numerous renewable energy projects on behalf of those who say they would suffer adverse effects.

The chief of the criminal division at the attorney general’s office said Friday he had received Sleigh’s letter.

“We appreciate and are mindful of the First Amendment issues raised” in the letter, said Jonathan Treadwell. “We’re certain Mr. Sleigh understands we’re proceeding in a fair, impartial and expeditious manner, and we expect to reach a conclusion next week.”

Sleigh said federal law allows citizens to sue anyone who, under the auspices of the state, acts in a way that deprives someone of constitutional rights. Smith’s assistance to opponents of energy projects is protected by her right to free speech, he said.

Such assistance is common in many other contexts, he said, such as domestic abuse cases, where nonlawyers frequently help victims in the court process.

Sleigh also argued that Vermont statute does not define what constitutes unauthorized practice of law or prescribe any penalties, so the attorney general’s office can’t establish that Smith has committed a crime.

Sleigh said he and Smith wouldn’t seek monetary damages in a suit, only an injunction against the state’s attempt to prosecute her. The suit would be filed in U.S. District Court, either in Rutland or Burlington, he said.

The cases in which Chen said Smith is suspected of unauthorized practice of law involved projects proposed by Green Mountain Power, Barton Solar and renewables magnate David Blittersdorf. Smith has said she simply assisted opponents of the projects in representing themselves before the quasi-judicial Public Service Board.

Smith has posted documents on her website constituting a series of dots that invite speculation about the source of the complaint against her.

One of them is a heavily redacted letter to the attorney general’s office setting forth reasons for suspecting Smith of unauthorized practice of law and stating that the town of Morgan had yet to pay her for services rendered. The letter writer — whose name was also redacted — says his or her firm had requested public records from the town.

Smith said the firm Dinse Knapp McAndrew had made a public records request to the town of Morgan for documents pertaining to her and her assistance to the town. Public records requests are themselves a matter of public record, and Smith posted a copy of the firm’s request to the town.

She said the town was planning to donate $2,500 to Vermonters for a Clean Environment but decided not to after it received the law firm’s public records request.

Smith also posted a letter to her from that firm, written a month before the Morgan public records request. The letter writer forbids her to trespass on Blittersdorf’s properties and states that he represented Blittersdorf.

Smith wouldn’t come out and say who she thinks sent the complaint letter, and she declined to associate Blittersdorf with any of it.

Sleigh would not name names either.

“I have my suspicions and deductions, and I think they’re right, but I think the AG should reveal who made the accusation,” Sleigh said. “I don’t know why that’s not public knowledge, or if I were the complainant why I wouldn’t stand up and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’”

Mike Polhamus

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52 Comments on "Energy critic Smith threatens suit to stop state probe of her work"

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Brian Dubie
7 months 21 days ago

We need sunshine and transparency. The accusers need to come out of the darkness. I stand in support of Annette Smith. This situation exposes the need to make changes in the way industrial energy projects are sited and regulated. It is essential that towns and cities play a major role the development of these projects in their communities. This approach will produce better projects and community support.

Willem Post
7 months 20 days ago

Brian,

….play the deciding role….

It is not as if the world’s survival depends on Vermont destroying its ridge lines and meadows.

But Vermont’s future DOES depend on keeping ridge lines and meadow untouched.

A better place to put PV solar plants is on the flat roofs and over the parking lots of big box stores, by government mandate, if necessary.

An added benefit would be these stores would use the energy and people could charge their FUTURE electric vehicles while shopping.

David R. Black
7 months 21 days ago

This is a scare tactic to shut Annette Smith up by the people that want to destroy our Vermont landscape and way of life. They are heavily invested in these machines(wind mills) and feel the resistance from ordinary people that are finally getting the info. needed to oppose this type of development. Smith is only providing information and exercising her right of speech. I support Annette Smith in her work to expose the truth.

Peter Romans
7 months 21 days ago

Thanks to the wind energy profiteers and their political minions for reminding me to contribute to VCE.

Candy Moot, Morgan VT
7 months 21 days ago

All true! Some (or maybe all) “renewable magnates” are too used to rolling over people, opposing towns, and our environment. And why should they worry about free speech? Simple … they don’t!

Willem Post
7 months 21 days ago
Annette’s lawyer wrote an excellent letter. She should file a complaint against the AG at a US Court ASAP. It is a sad situation, an upstanding, admired, generous, Vermont citizen (who has lived OFF THE GRID for over 25 years) has to seek refuge from Vermont “justice” in a US Court. This reminds me of the Civil Rights movement in the Deep South. My lord, some folks, including the AG’s office, HAVE regressed a long way. How does that square with Vermont being a WORLD leader? Or is that just empty bravura? Would that be the same Blitterdorf who wants… Read more »
Tom Shea
7 months 21 days ago
The supposed “unbiased” Act 248 process is revealed for what it is. A farce, as comical but less enjoyable than a Mel Brooks production. The state has made it nearly impossible for a private party to participate in the process. When Ms. Smith aids the overwhelmed parties in navigating the political process, the insiders decide they’d rather have it *totally* impossible for a private party to participate. That will remove the little annoyances to them as they line their own pockets. The solution — unleash the power of the government on her. Chicago machine politicians couldn’t have done it less… Read more »
Willem Post
7 months 20 days ago

Tom,

Let us not forget, Legislators are not stupid. Most of them went to college. They VOTED for Act 248 to their eternal shame.

Act 248 is nothing but a permission slip for the RE folks to run roughshod over anyone, including illegal intimidation of Annette Smith.

Hiding behind tobacco-industry type “studies”, they deny infrasound doing DNA damage and other physical harm to nearby people and animals, just like the tobacco folks did when denying smoking causes cancer.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/84293/wind-turbine-noise-and-air-pressure-pulses

Annette Smith
7 months 20 days ago

It is Section 248. Act 248 is the state’s mental health confinement law.

Willem Post
7 months 20 days ago

Annette,
Thank you.
You know so much more about these matters than almost anyone in Vermont.
I wish you HAD gone to law school and become the AG.
Folks, who tried acting as intimidators, would be shown the door, or may be even tarred and feathered.

Annette Smith
7 months 19 days ago

Apparently Vermont’s AG does not have to be a lawyer.

Steve Woodward
7 months 21 days ago
Thank you Vt. Digger for your continuing coverage of this story.This story affects every Vermonter,regardless of what side of the issue you are on. Just the thought of being able to pay a lawyer to have the Attorney General send an intimidating letter to one of your political opponents is frightening. Add to that,the letter was redacted with the people’s name who are accusing her of practicing law without a license. Why would the accuser actively seek to keep their name out of the letter. They know this is nothing but a political witchhunt and don’t want their name attached… Read more »
George Plumb
7 months 21 days ago

Keep up your courageous work Annette!

Kim Fried
7 months 21 days ago
Just maybe, just maybe this frivolous investigation will open some eyes up in the Legislature, just maybe. The Legislature is suppose to be the protectors of our Vermont and United States Constitutions and you would think they would be aghast at this administrative maneuver to silence a US and Vermont citizen. Well we haven’t seen many legislators yet demanding the protection of citizens rights to free speech. I think as this “un named” complaint proceeds we will see exactly what Ms. Smith and many informed citizens have been pointing out for years and that’s the very disturbing relationship between large… Read more »
clyde brenson
7 months 21 days ago

Annette, Don’t let the B’tards Get You Down!

Ralph Colin
7 months 21 days ago

It may be fun and interesting to see how this drama plays out. There are certain personalities, both in and out of state government, who may be really embarrassed when the truth is revealed in this case. Stay tuned.

rosemarie jackowski
7 months 21 days ago
The First Amendment has been under attack in Vermont for a long time. Usually it is under the radar. News like this is often not reported. No-free-speech zones on Main Street. Tax supported public library banning certain political books. The ‘incident’ at a Select Board meeting when a citizen was threatened by the Chair of the Select Board. The threat was accidentally caught on an open mic. (The chairman was angered because the citizen, a disabled vet, had made a brief statement in support of the First Amendment.) This case against the First Amendment and Smith should make national news.
Bob Stannard
7 months 21 days ago

“Sleigh also argued that Vermont statute does not define what constitutes unauthorized practice of law or prescribe any penalties, so the attorney general’s office can’t establish that Smith has committed a crime”

Using this logic anyone should be able to practice law without a license. I appreciate Mr. Sleigh working to get out in front of this issue but I’m not so sure I’d use this for an argument.

Kim Fried
7 months 20 days ago

Bob, I doubt whether Attorney Sleigh needs any advice from you, given your past history of supporting this administration and every other renewable developer that has targeted Vermont as a very nice place to make a fortune. Do you have a law degree? Just watch how Attorney Sleigh handles this case and you will understand what a brilliant lawyer can accomplish even in our state where the big money lawyers, the state and there donor developers have had the upper hand for years.

walter Moses
7 months 20 days ago

“I appreciate Mr. Sleigh working to get out front of the issue but I’m not to sure I’d use this for an argument”.
What argument would you use Mr. Stannard? Or would THAT be practicing law without a license? Huh?

Stewart Skril
7 months 21 days ago

NO VICTIM NO CRIME! We v They = no way Jose! We the people are the employers and have hired the civil SERVANTS to protect our rights not take them away from us.

7 months 20 days ago

Let’s see if I have this right. An anonymous accuser causes the Attorney General’s office to start a criminal investigation into a crime that does not exist in our criminal statutes. Okay, I got it.

Um, hey guys: Article 11th, Chapter 1 of the Vermont Constitution: “That in all prosecutions for criminal offenses, a person hath a right … to demand the cause and nature of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses…”.

The Vermont Constitution. It’s a wonderful thing.

bruce wilkie
7 months 20 days ago

Once again, it is all about the money. Shumlin and Sorrell have been the recipients of huge campaign contributions from the energy sector. Green Mountain Power paid for his first inaugural ball.
Now we have a Charlotte industrial wind magnate pulling the strings on the puppet Attorney General to investigate a woman who is a hero to real Vermonters, who value our ridgelines and open meadows.
Free Speech- the bulwark of open democracy- is being threatened by a bully who is no better than Trump.
This Cannot Stand.

John Greenberg
7 months 20 days ago
Joe Benning: I am not a lawyer and you are, but then so is Assistant Attorney General Zachary Chen. So I would appreciate your clarifying your remark that the accusation in question concerns “a crime that does not exist in our criminal statutes” and your implication that the AG’s office is pursuing this in violation of the Vermont constitution. The pertinent part of Mr. Chen’s letter to Annette Smith reads as follows: “Rule 2.201(B) of the PSB rules permits nonattorneys to appear and participate in PSB proceedings only under certain conditions. 3-000-001 VT Code R Section 2.201(B) (2015) available at… Read more »
John Brabant
7 months 19 days ago

Boy, I can always know before I read his comment, the “side” of the issue John Greenberg will be on. Kinda undermines himself even when he may provide a credible argument. All things he responds to are viewed through his lens of any and all approaches are justified if it will lead to the shuttering VT Yankee and other nuclear power plants. As someone who is vehemently anti-nuclear power, I have a hard time with his view of the world.

John Zuppa
7 months 19 days ago

Ms. Galloway…This comment by J. Greenberg is longer than your news story…

Could you remind all about your Comment Policy…And offer John a job writing Commentary…

He also cast aspersions on Ms. Smith’s reasons for making this public…”all of this was made public by Ms. Smith, NOT by the AG’s office”…intimating that the AG would have made a spurious case more public…

Which implies that Ms Smith is the spurious one…

Is that not personal harassment?

Tom Grout
7 months 19 days ago

Yes and Mr. Greenberg’s comment is spot on and neutral.in content. Apparently it is not what Mr. Zuppa wants to hear.

John Greenberg
7 months 17 days ago

John Zuppa:

“Which implies that Ms Smith is the spurious one…” No, Mr. Zuppa. That may be your inference, but it does not follow in any way from my statements above.

My only point, which has been borne out, is that if the AG had chosen to pursue as part of some scandalous agenda as quite a few commenters have suggested, HE, not Ms. Smith, would have leaked the documents. That’s not, in fact, what happened here.

Steve Woodward
7 months 19 days ago
John Greenberg: 979 words(give or take a few ) to get to your point is a bit excessive. For someone who seems to be a stickler for rules, you have total disregard for the rules of the reply section.I counted because it was more interesting to know how many words it took for you to get to your point, rather than actually what your point was. From your past posts,it is obvious that you take the side of this administration,no matter how egregious their behavior is. Has it occurred to you that you might be wrong, being that all the… Read more »
Tom Grout
7 months 19 days ago

Doesn’t right or wrong come after an investigation and not before?

Steve Woodward
7 months 18 days ago

Well Tom,after I posted this,I heard the news that the investigation was dropped.Sometimes you just know when something stinks.So now will you and John Greenberg concede that this was a farce.I am willing to bet not.

John Greenberg
7 months 17 days ago
Steve Woodward: “…. it is obvious that you take the side of this administration, no matter how egregious their behavior is.” First, the Attorney General is independently elected in Vermont and is not part of the administration. The incumbent AG has served with 3 administrations. Second, it really shouldn’t be surprising that I write in favor of energy policies which I have consistently advocated for decades. The current governor and his administration happen to largely favor the same policies, which is wonderful. For the record, I also write a fair amount about tax policy (and have for decades as well)… Read more »
Annette Smith
7 months 19 days ago
The important distinction is that the AG’s office can investigate all they want. It was the act of sending the target letter that triggered the CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION. Nothing minor about being under criminal investigation by Vermont’s Attorney General’s office, with all the powers that come with it. Phone and email taps. For more than two weeks I lived with the possibility that a sheriff would show up and seize my computers. And had I not taken the offensive, this allegation could have hung over me for years, unresolved. Mr. Greenberg, I understand that you do not like or respect me.… Read more »
John Greenberg
7 months 17 days ago
First, Annette, congratulations are in order. I’m sure you’re relieved that the investigation has been terminated. It can’t have been pleasant to find yourself a target. I would note that this outcome confirms the gravamen of my comments above noting that the AG’s office simply did its job and appears to have reached the consensus conclusion. Accordingly, I’m still finding it difficult to fathom all of the opprobrium directed at the AG’s office by your followers and your lawyer. It would be great if Mr. Ritchie would now explain publicly why he initiated this complaint in the first place, and… Read more »
John Greenberg
7 months 17 days ago

Correction to the above comment: when I wrote “Mr. Ritchie,” I should have written Mr. (Ritchie) Berger. I confused his first name with his last.

Ed Fisher
7 months 20 days ago

Okay , so the AG wants to stop a layman from practicing law , How about if that also stops attorneys and AG’s from practicing politics ? Or from playing media pundits ? anyone , ANYONE, should be able to stand the courts against such corporate welfare projects . And THAT , is all these projects amount to welfare for profit .

Willem Post
7 months 20 days ago

Ed,
…or collecting fat fees and “campaign contributions”, i.e., bribes, from wind and solar multi-millionaires, who cause nearby, INNOCENT Vermonters all sorts of miseries.

Rep. Gary Viens
7 months 20 days ago

Annette, please keep fighting for the Vermonters who want to keep Vermont the beautiful State we were born and raised in.

rosemarie jackowski
7 months 20 days ago

Assume you are taking a walk with your friend and he sneezes – and then he tells you that he has a cold. If you suggest that it might just be an allergy, can you be prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license?

This is about the First Amendment and government overreach in suppressing Constitutional Rights of citizens.

Annette Smith
7 months 20 days ago

My criminal defense attorney David Sleigh and I are holding a press conference on Monday, Feb. 8 at 11:30 am in the Cedar Creek Room of the Statehouse in Montpelier.

7 months 20 days ago

Isn’t a license from the Department of Financial Regulation required before an individual is allowed to provide investment advice in Vermont? Investment advice would undoubtedly include recommendations to sell securities.

Perhaps the Attorney General should investigate Bill McKibben, Gov. Shumlin and others to determine whether they have been improperly providing investment advice without a license when telling Vermonters and the state pension funds to divest fossil fuel securities.

Investigating McKibben and Shumlin is no more outrageous than investigating Ms. Smith.

Tom Grout
7 months 20 days ago
I find the most interesting in this news article is the subject of the Town of Morgan considering donating $2500 to Ms. Smith group. Last I knew the town has a role in the 248 process and now there was a thought of a donation from the town to fund an opposition group? The leaders of Morgan are very lucky this was not the case. Looks like the Town of Morgan was entertaining the concept of a third party donation. Talk about Vermonts big liberal cry against national Superpacts but it is deemed OK to do the same in small… Read more »
Candy Moot, Morgan
7 months 20 days ago

Sorry, Mr. Grout, I have no idea what you’re talking about! I assume you mean Super PAC? Whom do you believe is the Super PAC … Annette Smith or the 669 residents of Morgan?

Tom Grout
7 months 19 days ago

No town body is supposed to become politicly involved with any topic. For example the Town of Morgan cannot donate to the Bush for President camp or any superpac associated with any candidate.
The thought of the town donating $2500 to Ms. Smith’s group violates the Selectman’s duties by statute. Can you print a Selectman duties that state otherwise? If so please feel free to print in a reply.

Candy Moot, Morgan, VT
7 months 19 days ago

I guess I missed Annette’s announcement that she’s running for president …

She did act as a consultant to the Town of Morgan and like other consultants our Town hires, we expect to pay them. Most send bills, but not Annette.

But if Annette does form a PAC for a presidential bid, please do let me know. The Town won’t be able to contribute, but I will.

Tom Grout
7 months 19 days ago

Spend your money as you see fit any Vermont town has to rise to higher standards.

Glenn Thompson
7 months 20 days ago
From the article, “We appreciate and are mindful of the First Amendment issues raised” in the letter, said Jonathan Treadwell. “We’re certain Mr. Sleigh understands we’re proceeding in a fair, impartial and expeditious manner, and we expect to reach a conclusion next week.” I’m going out on a limb and predict this frivolous investigation goes away this coming week. If not, perhaps the state is more corrupted than even I imagined. If the investigation does indeed get dropped. The story must not stop there. The public needs to know who filed the complaint, and the public needs to know who… Read more »
Pamela Richard
7 months 20 days ago

ESCELLENT coverage story Mike Polhamus… we need more integrious writers like yourself in the world! 🙂

Steve Thurston
7 months 20 days ago
Assuming the AG stops the investigation for the reasons given by Annette’s attorney, one is lead to the conclusion that the investigation should never have occurred, which means that perhaps the attorneys at the AG’s office and the attorneys who made the complaint are themselves guilty of misconduct. The Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers contains the following language: “A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others.” The sanctions which the Professional Conduct Board may impose for violations of the Code Conduct range from reprimand to disbarment.
monique thurston
7 months 20 days ago
When Governor Shumlin insisted that Vermont’s biggest threat is climate change without any logical explanation except that “our hair is on fire” after Hurricane Irene, (which the state’s climatologist explained was not due to climate change) and the Legislature voted to impose renewable energy goals (Act 56) which require devastating Vermont’s landscape without a rational and scientific explanation, and when Public Service Department head Chris Reccia says that putting wind turbines on Vermont ridges will NOT affect global warming AFTER the energy goals were voted last year, and now that wind developer Blittersdorf and Governor Shumlin say its about jobs… Read more »
Willem Post
7 months 20 days ago

monique,

As I mentioned, some people will do almost anything to collect subsidies,
“campaign contributions” and lawyer’s fees, as quickly as possible; get rich quick at someone else’s expense.

They will claim the end of the world, do scare-mongering about any issue, to advance their interests.

As I said many times, it has NOTHING to do with global warming. That is just pap to fool the gullible.

The best way to have GOOD-PAYING jobs in Vermont is to train workers and attract PROFITABLE, HIGHER-TECH businesses to Vermont.

Enough of these EB-5-like government/business “partnerships”; that leads to cronyism of the worst kind.

rosemarie jackowski
7 months 20 days ago

Think about it. The Governor gets no punishment for supposedly taking advantage of a Vulnerable Adult.

Smith gets investigated for having conversations with friends.

If this is not an ethics violation, what is? WE need an INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION of the Office of AG.

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