Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore, left, and State’s Attorney John Lavoie are both facing potential impeachment. Photos are from a screenshot from Northwest Access TV (left) and by Glenn Russell/VTDigger.

The Vermont House has granted preliminary approval to a resolution that would set up a committee tasked with investigating whether Franklin County’s top law enforcement officials should be impeached — a major step forward in a process with little precedent.

House leaders announced last week that they intend to pursue impeachment of John Lavoie, the county’s state’s attorney, and John Grismore, its sheriff. No House members voiced opposition to the resolution, H.R.11, before the body advanced it Wednesday evening.

The resolution would grant House Speaker Jill Krowinski power to appoint seven members — not all from the same party — to a special investigatory committee. The panel would be allowed to meet after the legislative session adjourns; it also would have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, as well as hire its own investigators.

Rep. Mike McCarthy, D-St. Albans, who presented the resolution on the House floor Wednesday, said he and other members of the chamber’s Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee — which voted out the resolution — “do not recommend taking this first step toward impeachment lightly.”

“I have heard from many people in my community, and throughout Franklin County, who are deeply troubled by the reported behavior of the state’s attorney and the charges and investigation faced by the sheriff,” McCarthy said. “I worry that in our current age, there is a lack of accountability for elected officials and other powerful people.”

Allegations came to light earlier this month that Lavoie, the state’s attorney, repeatedly harassed and discriminated against his employees, as well as cultivated a hostile work environment. The longtime prosecutor and first-term Democrat has repeatedly refused to resign despite public calls from politicians and other state’s attorneys to do so. 

Grismore, the sheriff, has also resisted calls to resign since he was caught on video last August repeatedly kicking a handcuffed detainee. The Republican sheriff, who was elected last fall, is also being investigated by the Vermont State Police for alleged financial wrongdoing discovered during an audit of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

Speaking on the floor Wednesday, Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, told his colleagues that the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office assured him and other members of the House Appropriations Committee that the state has enough money on hand to cover the costs of the proposed investigation — including pay for the lawmakers on the committee.

The appropriations panel has also approved the impeachment resolution.

The Vermont Constitution gives the Legislature power to impeach and remove “state criminals.” But McCarthy noted Wednesday that this phrase has no easy definition — and it does not necessarily mean that a crime has to have been committed. 

If the House committee sets forth articles of impeachment against either man, the full House would then vote on whether to proceed. Their removal from office, though, would still require a trial and conviction overseen by the Senate.

VTDigger's northwestern Vermont reporter.