GOP candidate for Vermont attorney general picks up familiar refrain from Donovan

Republican candidate for Attorney General Jack McMullen proposed new policy to address drug problems across the state at a press conference today. VTD Photo/Nat Rudarakanchana
Republican candidate for Attorney General Jack McMullen proposed new policy to address drug problems across the state at a press conference today. VTD Photo/Nat Rudarakanchana

In his first public appearance after the hotly contested Democratic attorney general primary, Republican AG candidate Jack McMullen repeated a familiar argument: That of Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan, who conceded the hour before to incumbent Bill Sorrell.

McMullen held his press conference in what he described twice as a “middle-class” area. Burlington resident David Mears was the host, and in his neighborhood, just off Route 7 in Burlington, Mears said that a recent rash of burglaries has left him feeling unsafe.

McMullen says he has a plan to change that.

“I hear from everybody. There’s drug-driven crime in the state of escalating proportion,” McMullen said, citing conversations with Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito as well as law enforcement officers around the state.

“The way I propose dealing with it is a two-tiered approach,” he said. “On the first tier are dangerous criminals. Violent repeat offenders, drug dealers. Here, I’m proposing a statewide task force. We have 14 different state’s attorneys really following this problem. The attorney general has done good work, but his focus has not been on criminal matters.”

McMullen said the AG, with statewide jurisdiction, should coordinate between all counties for a consistent approach to getting violent criminals in jail.

“With 14 different state’s attorneys addressing the problem, you have an uneven approach to it and what that means is that the bad guys can figure out where the seams are and then work them,” McMullen said.

The second aspect of his plan is a proposal that largely mimics TJ Donovan’s Rapid Intervention Community Court initiative.

“At the same time, we have non-violent offenders, and here’s where what I’ve learned about Maple Leaf Farm comes in,” McMullen said, referencing an addiction treatment center located in Underhill. “If you take the same demographics, two sets of 20-somethings who are non-violent offenders, put the first group into treatment right off and follow them for three years … you find that after three years, 70 percent of these folks remain clean.” The flipside, he said, is that “put ‘em in jail for 60 days to teach them a lesson the old-fashioned way, and then into treatment … only 30 percent of the second group remain clean. So that’s a 40 percent gap between those two groups.”

McMullen proposed to use justice reinvestment money across the state to begin programs that would allow non-violent, first-time offenders to be referred directly to treatment centers instead of sending them to jail. Donovan did virtually the same thing in Chittenden County and proposed in his candidacy to expand the program across the state.

McMullen acknowledged the similarities.

“Just because it came from a Democrat doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea,” McMullen said. “My main thrust today would be taking non-violent offenders who are young straight into treatment.”

The third component of McMullen’s plan was a proposal to coordinate with attorneys general in states bordering Vermont to allow out-of-state offenders who are tried and convicted in Vermont to serve their time in their home state. Vermonters who committed offenses in those states would also serve their time in Vermont, McMullen said.

“This will have the beneficial effect of when they’re released, they’ll be released in their home jurisdiction and if they’re likely to repeat offend, those offenses occur in the home jurisdiction, not in Vermont,” he said.

Who would pay for it? “Well, that’s to be worked out,” McMullen said. “This doesn’t exist today.”

In general, he said he wants the money to come from the same place as the offender.

“I think the idea would be: It’s your guy, you should pay for him. That would be my starting position in any negotiation. And likewise, if it’s our guy, we should pay for him,” McMullen said.

At the end of the press conference, reporters asked why McMullen wasn’t a member of the bar in Vermont.

McMullen defended his credentials and said he was in the process of joining the Vermont Bar Association.

“Well I taught at law school. I taught the kinds of people that practice law here and it wasn’t just any law school – at Harvard Law School, of which I am also a graduate. In addition I’m a member of the bars of three jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia and the Associated Federal Courts,” McMullen said.

He didn’t join the Vermont Bar sooner because of an apprenticeship requirement.

“I should be a member of the Vermont Bar in a matter of months, but I’d also point out that as Attorney General Sorrell well knows, most of the cases are not prosecuted by him, they’re prosecuted by his staff.”

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  • Seth Callander

    You would think that a candidate for Attorney General would be a member of the Vermont Bar.
    Even Fred Tuttle would know that.

  • Julie Hansen

    Actually, a law degree is not a requirement for the position of Attorney General. Isn’t that odd? But it isn’t.

    • Mike Curtis

      But it isn’t a question of “requirements”. It’s a question of whose best qualified. Is that the guy who moved to Vermont specifically to run for office, who has not passed the state bar? No. I don’t think so.

  • Jed Guertin

    I’m a long term, about 45 years,independent who lately has voted more Democrat than Republican. Where did real Republican candidates like Jeffords, Snelling and Akins go to?

    So It was nice to have a chance to have two viable candidate to vote for, even though it was only the primaries.

    Now we’re back to one viable candidate, Bill Sorrell. The only thing noteworthy about Jack McMullen is that he was trounced by old Fred “Man with a Plan” Tuttle.

  • Dave Bellini

    Jack, can you be more specific about your two tiered vision?

    First, please define exactly what you mean by “non-violent” offender. Do you mean someone with a non-violent conviction or someone convicted with no violent BEHAVIOR? Big difference Jack. As you should know, lawyers love to plea bargain.

    EXAMPLE #1: A real drug dealer, in business selling drugs, goes to court and pleads guilty to POSSESSION of drugs. On paper, he now looks like a addict who needs….. treatment. In reality he is a drug DEALER that should have got more than the 60 days you complain he received. He won’t do well in treatment because he is a criminal that got a break from an overworked criminal justice system.

    EXAMPLE #2: A person beats and robs someone. During the court process he eventually pleads guilty to UNLAWFUL MISCHIEF or some other misdemeanor that doesn’t sound violent. Maybe he gets a short stay from the judge for punishment. The state agrees to lower the ASSAULT and ROBBERY in exchange for a guilty plea. On paper, he looks like a non-violent offender. His BEHAVIOR was however, violent.

    The real world is far different from what statistical analysts might show us in a bar graph. If you really think there are people in jail right now who should not be there, please, let everyone know who they are. I think you’ll find 99.9% of inmates are in prison for a good reason, if you look at BEHAVIOR.

  • Julie Hansen

    Thank you, Mr. Bellini,

    Those distinctions are important and often left out of the discussion.

  • Bruce Shields

    Mr. Bellini skirts around the issue of drugs: we — both Vermont and wider government — have criminalized behavior which is primarily damaging to the drug user. While in prison, drug users learn a great deal about criminal activity. The whole connection between drug use and criminality needs to be opened and debated. Drug users are clogging the system, but the results are very weak. Mr. MacMullen has very interesting perspective, if you will not be afraid of him.

    • Dave Bellini

      I’m surprised to hear the CEO of the conservative Ethan Allen Institute suddenly concerned that our prisons are filled with people that should not be there. The “connection between drug use and criminality…” How about murder, armed robbery, burglery, murder for hire, child abuse and neglect, to name a few. Does Mr. McMullen really believe that first time, non-violent(behavior)drug possession convictions are clogging up Vermont prisons?

      Could Mr. McMullen provide some proof? Do the courts really have it all wrong?

      Let Mr. McMullen provide some proof, if he can. And answer for himself, if he can.