Courts & Corrections

Scott considers reopening high court nomination process

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott on his inauguration day last week. File photo by Andrew Kutches/VTDigger
Gov. Phil Scott is considering restarting the nomination process to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice John Dooley.

Scott’s spokesperson said he may ask the Judicial Nominating Board, a panel of lawmakers and legal professionals tasked with selecting candidates to sit on Vermont’s courts, to reopen the search.

The board already completed a round of interviews last year and forwarded a list of six candidates to then-Gov. Peter Shumlin in December.

Shumlin asked the board to begin the nominating process after Dooley announced in September that he plans to retire when his term expires April 1. The former governor intended to name a successor for the veteran of the court before leaving office last week.

However, Shumlin lost a challenge brought before the Supreme Court by House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, and Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia. The five-justice panel issued a unanimous decision last week that the responsibility for naming Dooley’s successor fell to the new governor.

As of Monday morning, Scott had not yet reviewed the list of six candidates the board completed in December, according to Scott spokesperson Rebecca Kelley.

Kelley confirmed Monday that the governor is consulting legal counsel about the pending high court vacancy and is considering asking to reopen the application process.

“We’re looking into it,” Kelley said.

Some potential candidates may not have submitted their names for consideration in the fall because of concerns about the validity of the process under the Shumlin administration, Kelley said.

She was not certain when Scott would make a decision about requesting to reopen applications. Legal counsel was still determining the timeline, she said.

Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, who chairs the nominating board in her capacity as an attorney, said Monday she was not aware that Scott was considering reopening the process.

“I have not heard anything about that,” Flory said.

Several members of the board, including Flory, will be reaching the end of their terms on the panel within a few weeks. Kelley confirmed that the turnover on the board is one of the factors Scott is weighing as he decides how to proceed.

Scott will have the opportunity to appoint two members to the 11-person board.

(VTDigger’s Mark Johnson contributed to this report.)

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  • Gary Murdock

    Excellent news, I hope he decides to start the process from scratch after Flory is replaced. It’s clear from her reaction to Turners efforts to stop the Shumlin appointment, she does not have our interest at heart. She is on record as stating that she was not questioning Shumlins actions for fear of being accused of playing DC politics, she put herself before her constituents. The fact that the decision to stop it was swift and unanimous doesn’t say much for her ability as an attorney either. It’s not a stretch to assume that anyone submitting their name for a Shumlin appointment would be ideologically aligned with him, so it stands to reason that anyone submitting for a Scott appointment would be more balanced and palatable to the masses.

  • Neil Johnson

    Shumlin wasn’t blocked, he was trying to take Scott’s appointment, clearly displayed by the unanimous vote and the clarification of the term vacant. Scott is not the bad guy in this situation.

  • It’s only right and just that our governor should wait until he has named and seated the two newest members of the committee and then charged the committee to call for new applications from those who want to be considered for the upcoming high court vacancy.

  • Kathy Callaghan

    Very simply, it’s Phil Scott’s pick, so if he wants to look at other candidates or thinks other candidates might surface who didn’t surface initially, it’s his call. No harm, no foul.

  • Tom Koch

    Senator Flory was not in a position to challenge Shumlin’s usurpation of the appointment prerogative. Her committee did its job on a normal timeline, and they had no control over Shumlin, who was solely responsible for this mess. Still, it is entirely proper for Governor Scott to ask for the process to be reopened. The six names already submitted, as well as any additional names approved in the reopened application process, should all be considered.

  • J Scott Cameron

    Reopen the process and start over. Governor Scott can keep the people previously certified if he wishes but he deserves to see those candidates who may not have applied, either because they had doubts about the process or, more likely, because they felt that Governor Shumlin would not have given them fair consideration. Obviously, this isn’t D.C. (thank the good lord) but politics is still in play for a nomination of this magnitude. Cast a wide net; nominate the best person.