Leahy And Sanders Announce Merit Commission To Screen Candidates For Federal Judgeships In Vermont

(THURSDAY, Feb. 26, 2009) -- U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Thursday announced the formation of a Vermont Judicial Selection Commission to screen candidates for federal judicial vacancies in Vermont.

The nine-member, nonpartisan panel consists of three commissioners named by Leahy, three by Sanders, and three by the Vermont Bar Association.  U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) will also have input during the selection process.

The commission will receive, evaluate and recommend several candidates for each federal judicial vacancy in Vermont as such vacancies occur.  By longstanding practice, the senior senator of the President’s party then recommends the final candidate for each judicial vacancy to the President.  Leahy is Vermont’s senior senator and also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which first considers judicial nominations in the Senate.

Judge J. Garvan Murtha recently announced his intention to take senior status on Vermont’s U.S. District Court, opening the first such vacancy in Vermont in several years.

Leahy said, “Senator Stafford and I first put a merit commission together for an earlier Vermont judicial vacancy, and I have also followed that practice since I became senior senator.  Merit commissions are not required and take some extra effort, but I believe they work well in finding qualified candidates who are grounded by their experience in the community.  On the Judiciary Committee it is also helpful when the chairman sets a constructive example like this for other senators and other states.”

Sanders said, “Merit selection of judges is good for Vermont and good for the federal judiciary. The open and transparent commission process makes sure the most qualified people are considered for lifetime appointments to the bench. I appreciate that Senator Leahy has set a high standard for the judicial selection process in our state, a process that is a model for the rest of the country.”  

Interested applicants can contact the Vermont Bar Association for details in applying for the new vacancy.

Below is a list of the nine members of the Vermont Judicial Selection Commission and the Commission’s Executive Director: 

Vermont Judicial Selection Commission

Following is biographical information for each of the nine members of the Vermont Judicial Selection Commission, and for the panel’s Executive Director, Robert Paolini.

Commission Members 

Appointed by Senator Leahy --

Justice Marilyn Skoglund is an Associate Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court.  Originally from Chicago, she relocated to Vermont in 1973 and became a member of the Vermont Bar.  She worked in the Office of the Attorney General as: Special Assistant Attorney General (1978-1981); Assistant Attorney General (1981-1989); Chief of the Civil Law Division (1989-1993); and Chief of Public Protection Division (1993-1994).  She was appointed to the District Court in 1994 and was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court on August 27, 1997.

Mr. Jerome (Jerry) O’Neil is a founding partner at the Burlington law firm, O’Neil Kellner & Green.  A graduate of Georgetown University and the Georgetown University Law Center, Mr. O’Neil currently is a board member of the Vermont Association for Justice, a member of the board of the American Association for Justice, and a member of the U.S. District Court Advisory Committee.  He is the State Coordinator for Public Justice and specializes in representing clients in personal injury and wrongful death cases.  He resides in Burlington.

Mr. Peter Van Oot (Chair) is an attorney residing and working in Brattleboro.  He is affiliated with Downs Rachlin Martin, Attorneys at Law, and he serves clients in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.  He has a background in environmental law and serves as outside General Counsel to a number of corporations on transactional, governance, environmental, and regulatory matters.

Appointed by Senator Sanders –

Mr. Geoffrey Shields currently serves as the President and Dean of Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont.  He has been affiliated with Vermont Law School since 2004.  He is a graduate of Harvard and Yale Law School and, prior to coming to Vermont Law School, was a partner at the law firm of Gardner Carton and Douglas based in both Washington, D.C., and Chicago.  Highlights of his career include the time he spent as an assistant counsel to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, counsel and foreign policy advisor to Senator Frank Church, and special assistant to the secretary for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Mr. Paul Burns is the Executive Director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.  He has been working with Public Interest Research Groups in the region since 1986 and serves on the board of U.S. PIRG, the federation of state PIRGs.  He has been a champion of environmental protection initiatives.  He resides in Montpelier.

Ms. Barbara Prine resides in Burlington andis a staff attorney with Vermont Legal Aid.  She has worked on the Vermont Legal Aid Disability Law Project in Rutland and maintains a focus on the provision of legal services to the rural poor of Vermont, particularly victims of domestic violence and those in need of representation in matters of family law.

Appointed by the Vermont Bar Association –

Mr. David Silver has been a partner at the firm of Barr, Sterberg, Moss, Lawrence, Silver, Saltonstall & Fenster P.C. in Bennington since 1992.  He concentrates his practice on matters of criminal defense, personal injury, and employment law and represents clients in both Vermont and New York.  Prior to joining his current firm, he served as a Bennington County Public Defender.  He is a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and is the Director of the Vermont Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  He resides in Bennington.

Mr. David Mickenberg is currently a partner at the Burlington firm of Mickenberg, Dunn, Lachs, Hazel & Smith, PLC. He concentrates his practice on public affairs, civil litigation, and family law.  His prior professional credits include working on research and advocacy related to Presidential appointees to the federal bench, including three Supreme Court nominations, for the Alliance for Justice in Washington, D.C.  He is a native of and currently resides in Burlington.

Ms. Joan Loring Wing served as the President of the Vermont Bar Association from 1996 to 1997.  She currently practices law in Rutland.  She comes from a long line of successful and well-known Vermont attorneys; both her father and her grandfather served as President of the Vermont Bar Association during their distinguished careers.

Executive Director --

Mr. Robert Paolini is the Executive Director of the Vermont Bar Association.  He has served on the Vermont Civics Steering Committee and was the recipient of the Vermont Secretary of State Enduring Democracy Award in 2006.  Prior to joining the Vermont Bar Association as Executive Director, Mr. Paolini served two terms in the Vermont House of Representatives representing Duxbury, Waterbury, and Huntington.  He resides in Waterbury.

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