Three candidates for deputy judge of Windsor County

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Three are seeking two Associate Judge positions for Windsor County. Incumbent Michael Ricci, a 69-year-old independent, is up against Democrats Alison Johannensen and former Assistant Justice David Singer of Hartland.

The position is unique. Each of the state’s 14 counties has two assistant judges, a tradition that dates back to the 1700s. Assistant judges sit on either side of the president of the civil and family court. The presiding judge has a say on questions of law, while the assistant judges hear questions of fact.

Judges hear cases such as abuse relief, divorce, parental rights, as well as harassment and property disputes. Auxiliary judges can also be certified, by the judiciary, after one year in office to hear uncontested divorce cases without the presiding judge.

Q&A with incumbent Michael Ricci, independent

Ricci, who initially ran as a Democrat, switched to the independent side after losing the primary election in August. He was appointed to this position in 2021 by Governor Phil Scott. He has extensive volunteer experience, including serving as a justice of the peace, chair of the Woodstock board, member of the Dartmouth Hillel board, advisor to Tucker Foundation scholars and the Dartmouth Environmental Conservation Organization , chair of the Woodstock area. Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors as well as a community volunteer for the library, youth sports and school district. He also teaches and coaches youth sports.

Mountain Times: Why are you running for deputy judge?

Michael Ricci: My decision to continue in this position is based on my dedication to the job and the encouragement received from my colleagues in the judiciary and members of the community. Current members of the judiciary are ethically prohibited from publicly sharing their opinions on the election, but they overwhelmingly supported my bid for a second term. The county would be best served by considering the importance of continuity and particularly current experience as the role has changed significantly over the past eight years. Our presiding judges are caring and helpful, but it is hard to imagine how two new judges will be able to serve our county as well as they could work with an assistant judge with current knowledge of the role and new technologies used to support the judicial process. . .

The court system requires associate judges to hear cases in family court for at least a year before undergoing the training required to preside over uncontested divorces on their own. I now meet the requirement of having heard cases for more than a year, having taken the necessary courses and being able to hear those cases in 2023. If we elect two new assistant judges, it will take maybe cases are being sent back to the regular family court schedule, resulting in an additional backlog of cases that presiding judges have to deal with until 2024. Glad to know I’m making a difference, no only for my own account, but all reviews of my work have been excellent. I ask our constituents to give me the opportunity to continue to serve.

MT: In your opinion, what are the main problems facing the judicial system?

MC: The decisions we make have a significant impact on the lives of those who depend on the court hearing their case fairly and fully. I listen to the evidence presented in each case with knowledge of the community we serve.

The majority of people who appear in court have just gone through some of the most difficult times in their lives. Talking about these difficulties is made more taxing in a new and unfamiliar courtroom. The most difficult issues I expect to face relate to establishing an environment where hearing participants are comfortable and understand the hearing process. Many participants are unfamiliar with the hearing process and may not be represented by counsel. Our challenge is to provide a clear understanding of the process so participants are better able to present their case fully and accurately. If participants know how the hearing process works and what to expect, they are more comfortable and the results of our hearings are more complete, fair and accurate.

There are other problems in the courtroom. The assistant judge’s contribution to the decision-making process is to actively participate in determining questions of fact, while the presiding senior judge then applies those facts to questions of law. I listen to testimony with an unbiased approach to seeking the truth, carefully considering the people involved and the context of the situation. Each of us (two secondary judges and the presiding judge) brings our unique experiences to the process. Three people who listen to the same witness repeat different aspects of their testimony. Getting three perspectives often leads to a better result. I believe this system provides the best and fairest decisions for people who appear in court. The use of technology can be a problem for people in hearings.

Over the past year, the work of the judiciary has shifted from relying on paper files for every hearing to one that requires proficiency in a variety of electronic legal systems. My professional training in technology and my experience at the Library and Dartmouth have prepared me well to master these systems that many members of the judiciary find difficult and complicated. This poses problems for court personnel and citizens trying to navigate the system. Over the past year, the work of the judiciary has shifted from relying on paper files for every hearing to one that requires proficiency in a variety of electronic legal systems. My background in technology and my experience at the Library and Dartmouth have prepared me well to master these systems that many magistrates find difficult and complicated.

In my work as Director of Community Relations and Technology Services at the Norman Williams Public Library, I hold a library leadership position with overall responsibility for community outreach, management of the library’s historic building , budgeting, financial reporting and IT functions, including hardware, software, staff and user training, internal and external communications, website and digital literacy activities. This training allows me to help others use our electronic systems. I am honored to serve our county as one of your Deputy Judges and thank the many members of our community who have expressed their support for my retention in this position. I ask for your vote and look forward to serving our community for another term as an assistant judge.

Q&A with Alison Johannensen, Democrat

Johannensen, 48, has 26 years of legal experience. She has also served as a board member of the Pentangle Arts Council, Woodstock Nursery School and Taftsville Cemetery, of which she is current president. His volunteer work in the community includes directing theater for youth, writing grants for Change the World Kids and Woodstock Elementary School, Zack’s Place, Covered Bridges Half Marathon, Vermont Overland, WES, Wassail Holiday House Tour, Student Rescue Project , JAG Productions and others.

Mountain Times: Why are you running for deputy judge?

Alison Johannensen: I was contacted by members of the community to introduce myself as an assistant judge. As I learned more about the position, I felt that my professional and community experience made me well suited for the position. I have always believed in the importance of giving back to the community in the 16+ years I have lived in Taftsville and as an Associate Judge I will continue that service.

MT: In your opinion, what are the main problems facing the judicial system?

AJ: I think a big problem is the backlog of cases. Cases were on hold before the pandemic and of course worsened when the courts were closed. With additional training, assistant judges can preside over uncontested divorces and sit as hearing officers when traffic violations are heard. I intend to take this training so that I can help move these files forward.

Another issue is the county budget, for which the assistant judges are responsible. We must be responsive to pressures on taxpayers to budget, making good use of our existing buildings and trying to keep costs low.

Q&A with David Singer, Democrat

David Singer, 83, served as an assistant judge from 2004 to 2012. During that time, he was the only county judge to take a 17-week course at Vermont Law School to allow him to reside in civil cases . Singer has 20 years of experience as a police officer in Woodstock. He taught a class on domestic violence at the Vermont Police Academy, he served on the Woodstock Child Sexual Abuse Task Force and the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations, which dealt with violence against children. Singer also recently taught a police community relations program at OSHER. As an associate judge, Singer participated in or led a $2.5 million renovation of the Woodstock Courthouse, bringing the building up to code with a new elevator addition at the back of the building and other improvements.

Mountain Times: Why are you running for deputy judge?

David Singer: I think my eight years as an assistant judge would be precious. I have served both the county and the state in difficult times and would like to restore the relationship between the county and the selection boards that I worked hard for during my first two terms.

MT: In your opinion, what are the main problems facing the judicial system?

DS: The budget is always an issue. There are 22 towns in Windsor County. What I did before my term ended, especially after Tropical Storm Irene, I toured all 22 towns in Windsor County. It is important to continue these relationships with local city leaders.

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