Regarding the column “U.S. attorneys can help build a more equitable criminal justice system” Dec. 2:
I recently read Timothy Doherty Jr.’s commentary. As a reform-minded prosecutor, I was disappointed by the oversimplification and implication that Vermont’s state and local law enforcement practices need “gatekeeping” by a U.S. attorney.
First, state prosecutors are not content with the status quo — and were not prior to the murder of George Floyd. Addressing racial disparities and inequities in the justice system has been central to Vermont’s criminal justice reform efforts. While work remains to be done, leaders like Sen. Sears, Rep. Cristie, and Attorney General Donovan are committed to enacting systemic reform.
Second, it is the federal system that needs an infusion of Vermont values, not the other way around. Local communities and law enforcement departments, including Montpelier and Barre City, have struggled to adopt Fair and Impartial Policing policies that reflect Vermont values without risking the loss of federal funding for their communities. Several local leaders I spoke with were offended by the suggestion they are not working hard enough on equity or reform.
Finally, cases should be prosecuted on their merit. Only a small proportion of Vermont’s cases are prosecuted federally — usually because of their community or victim impact. With a new administration, current U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan may be replaced. If that occurs, I hope Mr. Doherty or others aspiring for the job follow her lead on working collaboratively with local prosecutors and law enforcement on policy, and make prosecutorial decisions based on public safety, not political litmus tests.
Rory Thibault is the Washington County state’s attorney.