Public Safety

Defense attorney blasts Bennington County state’s attorney as rift goes public

Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage appears on GNAT-TV in 2018.
Richard P. Burgoon Jr. accused Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage, seen here, of “bullying tactics” in a letter sent Monday to Vermont Attorney General Charity Clark. Marthage has defended her actions. GNAT-TV screenshot

Bennington attorney Richard P. Burgoon Jr. claims the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office has been filing ethics complaints against him in an attempt at “bullying” him as retaliation for his zealous defense of his clients, a claim the state’s attorney denies. 

Burgoon, in a letter sent Monday to Vermont Attorney General Charity Clark, aired his complaints about the actions of the Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage and Bennington County Deputy State’s Attorney Alex Burke over eight strongly worded pages.

Burgoon, an attorney with Furlan & Associates, works as a “conflict counsel” when the public defender’s office has a conflict of interest that prevents it from defending a case in Bennington County.

“I’m no prosecutor but it would seem to me that I have gotten under the professional skin of Erica and Alex and rather than just engage in the field of play, the courtroom, they seem more interested in, well, what, exactly?” he wrote.

“Going after a 62-year-old indigent defense counsel on multiple occasions because they are interested in, well, what, exactly?” Burgoon wrote. “Doing these things with State resources and advancing the ideas, goals, and parameters that you as Attorney General want utilized against -- defense counsel for doing his job?”

He described the actions of the state’s attorney’s office as “bullying tactics” based on “personal vendettas.”

Neither Marthage nor Burke responded to phone and email messages sent Monday and Tuesday seeking comment. On Wednesday, Marthage replied to an email from VTDigger, indicating she would have no comment beyond an interview she gave with the Bennington Banner.

In the Banner’s story, Marthage raised four incidents in which her office felt Burgoon had failed to appropriately recuse himself when instances of “obvious conflicts” arose.  

One of those cases, the Banner reported, involved a person charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Marthage said Burgoon was representing a criminal defendant at the same he was representing the victim of the crime, but that he failed to recuse himself until others became aware of it. 

“That’s an outrageous conflict,” Marthage told the Banner.

Burgoon indicated in his letter that Marthage and Burke had filed a total of six or possibly seven complaints against him. He said they have all been dismissed — a claim that is difficult to confirm due to confidentiality restrictions set by the Vermont Judiciary, which oversees such complaints.

Burgoon also wrote that the state’s attorney’s office has accused him in court filings of two felonies — tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice — but that none of the accusations have led to charges, disciplinary action or revocation of his bar license. 

In an interview on Monday, Burgoon said the ethics complaints are considered confidential and that he did not keep versions provided to him.

“I don’t have them because once they’re done, if there’s nothing there, I don’t want to keep them. They are a waste of my time,” he said.

In response to additional questions, Burgoon said in an email on Tuesday that he went through his emails to try to find some of the ethical complaints and located two filed by Marthage. 

One involved an allegation that he contacted a witness already represented by counsel. He wrote he couldn’t find the dismissal for that complaint but recalled that it had been dismissed. The second, which included the dismissal letter, addressed his competence in representing a client.

Michael Kennedy, bar counsel at the Vermont Judiciary, wrote in an email Tuesday that  Vermont Supreme Court rules stipulate that such complaints and related information are confidential unless formal proceedings occur.

“I cannot confirm or deny whether a complaint has ever been filed against Attorney Burgoon,” Kennedy wrote. He said Burgoon “has never been the subject of formal disciplinary proceedings.”

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio said on Monday he’s seen “no evidence that (Burgoon) is doing anything unethical.”

“He is a very staunch advocate for his clients,” Valerio said. “I haven’t seen anything that indicates that he is not working in his client’s interests no matter what he’s doing.” 

Lauren Jandl, chief of staff in the Vermont Attorney General’s office, confirmed that her office received Burgoon’s correspondence.

“Upon initial review, the Office has no knowledge of the facts or allegations raised in the correspondence,” Jandl wrote in an email on Monday. “Note that each state's attorney is an independently elected official and is not a part of the Attorney General's Office. Further, the Attorney General does not oversee state's attorneys.”

Asked why he was sending a letter to the attorney general’s office when Marthage was independently elected by voters in Bennington County, Burgoon replied, “I guess in the parlance of our world, it’s the court of last resort,” he said.

He described receiving notice of an ethics complaint as “scary.”

“When you get the email and it says an ethical complaint has been filed against you, I don’t care who you are, your breath is taken away,” Burgoon said.

Burgoon said he wasn’t sure what action, if any, the attorney general would take.

“I want the attorney general to be aware of what’s going on. That’s all,” he said.

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Alan J. Keays

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