Jeremy Dodge is seeking legal help in an attempt to reclaim his family homestead from Gov. Peter Shumlin.
“I just want to get my property back,” Dodge said.
Meanwhile, Shumlin has already lawyered up, hiring one of Vermont’s best-known attorneys, M. Jerome Diamond, to help him weather a storm of controversy that has engulfed the governor since news broke about the land deal last month. Diamond is a former Vermont attorney general and founded the Montpelier-based firm Diamond & Robinson. He and Shumlin both hail from Putney, and Diamond said they have a longstanding relationship.
Diamond is fielding press inquiries about the land deal and will represent Shumlin in future negotiations.
“These are private real estate matters, and it would not be appropriate for the governor’s counsel to be involved,” Diamond said.
The issue sprang into the public spotlight two weeks ago, when the media began scrutinizing the deal. Dodge, a high school dropout and ex-con, regrets selling the property and claims that he had no idea what his options were when his next-door neighbor, Shumlin, purchased it. Dodge says he has received just over $20,000 for the property, or about a seventh of the assessed value, since the governor purchased it just before it was to go to a tax auction.
Ten days ago, Shumlin told Dodge and the media that he would renegotiate the deal. The state’s top official told reporters that he would pay for Dodge’s attorney, as Dodge did not have legal representation the first time around.
Dodge said he has a meeting with attorneys from Vermont Legal Aid on Tuesday and is planning to talk to three or four other lawyers who have reached out to him. Eric Avildsen, director of Vermont Legal Aid, would not comment on whether Dodge was seeking the organization’s assistance, as it is a “confidential matter.” He did say that although legal aid regularly helps low-income people with disabilities, it is unlikely that the nonprofit law firm would assist in a real estate dispute.
When Dodge sold his family’s property, it was slated for tax sale. He says he didn’t know he could have kept his property for another year if it had gone to tax sale, and that he would have then had a year to pay off the more-than $17,000 in back taxes, plus interest.
As this story has unfolded over the past two weeks, numerous onlookers have noted that Dodge’s reported annual income of below $10,000 would make him eligible for large tax adjustments. Dodge never filed for an adjustment, and Shumlin did not bring the matter to his attention. Former Rep. Oliver Olsen, R-Jamaica, estimates that Dodge should have been liable for $463.26 in 2012, rather than the $4,597.11 he owed without an adjustment.
Dodge’s quest to retrieve his former property may prove difficult. Shumlin said in an interview last month that he would not void the sale because “that wouldn’t do anybody any good.”
Neither of the two parties in the dispute has contacted the other.
“I have no contact with the governor, nor do I have no need to talk to the governor because I’m not going to get excited over statements he’s made,” Dodge said. “It’s better off that I don’t say nothing to anybody, especially the governor.”
Diamond said he reached out to Dodge.
“I’m expecting that Jerry and maybe a member of his family would meet with counsel shortly and select a counsel,” he said. “And hopefully, if he remembers to pass my contact information along, that maybe I will get a call.”
Dodge’s son, Shawn Dodge, is a 19-year-old Vermont National Guardsman. He said his family would like to settle their differences with the governor out of court.
“We’re trying to settle this civilly with the governor,” he said. “There’s nothing set in stone, but we’re hoping my dad can pay him back and it goes through tax sale again.”
Shawn Dodge said he and his four siblings did not know their father had sold the land his grandparents purchased circa 1950. Had they known their father was considering selling the property to Shumlin, Shawn Dodge said, they would have stepped in.
“It seems like a very raw deal, and we don’t know what all is going on and there’s a lot of paperwork we’re looking into,” he said. “There’s a lot of digging we have to do ourselves to figure out what went wrong, and where all of this information went, and whether my grandparents left something for my dad’s taxes.”
Shumlin briefly addressed the issue at a news conference last week and said that he would not comment on the matter further until the two parties had reached an agreement.
“As you know, we intend to enter into conversations with Jeremy as soon as we can,” he said. “Nothing has been scheduled yet, but I look forward to having those conversations.”
Dodge said that political operators have since contacted him about the matter. While he did not name names, he said he has no interest in dealing with them.
“I ain’t doing this for the politics, I just want to get my stuff back,” he said.