Welcome to the era of Big Sugar

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Adam Parke stands at the collection point that pumps sap from steep hills to the east and west of the Hinman Road in Glover. Photos by Chris Braithwaite

by Chris Braithwaite

 copyright 3-13-2013

BARTON — When Adam Parke and Todd Scelza “sweetened the pans” and drew off their first 165 gallons of maple syrup Monday night, it was the culmination of ten months’ work and an investment of a quarter of a million dollars.

It was also a demonstration of what has happened to one of this area’s oldest and most traditional enterprises.  Welcome to the era of Big Sugar.

Starting from scratch in May last year, Mr. Scelza and Mr. Parke have installed 11,700 taps over hundreds of acres of forest they’ve leased in Glover from Nick Ecker-Racz.

If all goes well, they’re looking forward to expanding to 15,000, perhaps 20,000 taps in future seasons.

That won’t make them the biggest operators in the business.  Mark Colburn in West Glover has 21,000 taps this year.  And when Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza needed some very large tanks to handle their sap, they got them used from a sugarmaker in Franklin County.  With about 100,000 taps, the seller found that his 4,500-gallon sap tanks were just too small.

All of the time and money the partners have put into their operation since last May is culminating this week in a productive machine with a great many moving parts.

Most of the taps yield their sap to a collection point that sits in a low, swampy area just off the old Hinman Road.  The sap is drawn to two big tanks by a vacuum pump that reaches deep into the forest to the east and west through two-inch dry lines.  The sap actually flows through a parallel set of wet lines, connected at strategic points to the dry line.

Mr. Ecker-Racz collects that sap in a tank on a trailer behind his tractor and hauls it south on the Hinman Road, across a ford over a small creek, and a short distance west on the Shadow Lake Road to a big insulated shipping container that houses a shiny new reverse osmosis (RO) machine.  Another big tank receives the sap, along with sap pumped directly from taps in another section of the operation, on the south side of Shadow Lake Road.

A smaller tank sits beside the sap tank in the barn the partners have built, collecting a gush of concentrated sap from the RO machine.

That concentrate gets pumped up into a tank in the back of a veteran dump truck and hauled through Glover and Barton to Mr. Parke’s farm, high at the end of May Pond Road.

There it is boiled down into syrup in a six-by-16-foot evaporator fired by two oil burners.

The whole exercise is a fascinating mix of old and new.  In Mr. Parke’s sugarhouse the back pan is 30 years old.  He bought it from the defunct American Maple Company in Newport, and it was patched up under the supervision of Bucky Shelton at the new sugaring supply business in Orleans, Lapierre USA.

But the front pans are gleaming new stainless steel.  There are three of them taking up the space of the traditional front pan, and a fourth to serve as a spare.  The point, the sugarmakers explained, is that one pan can be lifted out of place and replaced while it is being cleaned.  Frequent cleaning comes with the RO-enriched concentrate that arrives from Glover.  It drops a lot of niter as it boils, and that can’t be allowed to coat the bottom of the pan.

“With RO sap, you’re kind of right on the edge of disaster all the time,” said Tim Perkins, who directs UVM’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill.

He’s seeing a steady growth in the maple industry.  Exact numbers are hard to come by, Mr. Perkins said, but his estimate is that “the maple industry has been growing quite rapidly over the last five years, on the order of 4 to 5 percent a year.”

New technology has been key to the industry’s growth, Mr. Perkins said.

“Anybody of a reasonably decent size is going to have a very efficient operation with a modern tubing system, vacuum lines, RO, and very efficient evaporators.”

A vacuum system like the one Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza laid out with the help of a consultant from New York State can double the yield per tap.

The ratio of taps to syrup, Mr. Perkins said, “used to be a quart per tap in a good year on buckets.  Now, tapping forest trees, you can get half a gallon per tap year after year, if you’re doing everything right.”

“If you don’t have vacuum,” Mr. Shelton said flatly, “it’s like having a ski area without snow making.”

To handle all that sap most large sugarmakers have turned to reverse osmosis.

David Marvin of Butternut Mountain Farm in Morrisville recalled starting out 40 years ago with 4,000 taps.  “That was a pretty big deal,” he said.  His operation currently has 16,000 taps.

“The real key has been reverse osmosis,” Mr. Marvin said.  Without it, sugarmakers were burning between four and four and a half gallons of oil to make a gallon of syrup.  With RO, Mr. Marvin said, it takes two quarts of oil to make a gallon of syrup.

Without RO, Mr. Marvin said, “we wouldn’t have this expansion in the industry.  The consumer wouldn’t be able to afford the energy we’d have to use to make the product.”

Though most large-scale sugarmakers burn oil, Mr. Perkins at the research center noted that the technology of wood-fired rigs continues to advance.  While wood-fired rigs have long relied on a supply of forced air at the bottom of the fire pit, the new models add a flow of air over the top of the fire to burn gasses that would otherwise go up the stack.

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Bucky Shelton stands beside the Hurricane at Lapierre USA in Orleans. The rig applies new technology to the time-honored practice of burning wood. Photos by Chris Braithwaite

Mr. Shelton has one such rig on display at the Lapierre store in Orleans.  It’s a three-tiered beauty in stainless steel called the Hurricane, and it carries a price tag of $36,212.  Its top unit, called a piggyback, concentrates the sap on its way down to the evaporator.

For Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza, finding a very large, untapped hardwood forest rich in maple was key to their enterprise.  Mr. Ecker-Racz bought his land at the end of the Perron Hill Road in 1968 and moved onto it in 1970.  Since then the trained forester has cultivated it much the way others might care for a garden.

He’s culled for firewood, harvested the softwood several times, but left the best hardwood standing for saw logs — or for sugaring.

He scorns the idea of clearcutting, or even selectively cutting everything over a certain size.  Though they are rare these days, he said, “you will find a few old-time Vermonters who understand the genetics of wood.  It’s just like a dairy herd.  You don’t milk your culls and beef your best cows.”

Mr. Parke is clearly delighted to have found such a stand of maples.  “Nick is an exceptional forester,” he said of Mr. Ecker-Racz.

Mr. Parke and Mr. Scelza demonstrated a lot of ingenuity in getting set up for sugaring.  The barn on the Shadow Lake Road is a reconstruction of one Mr. Parke tore down in Orwell.  Years ago Mr. Parke picked up a couple of shipping containers and buried them at his farm as root cellars.  He dug them up and used one to house the RO machine, the other for the pumps and generator at the collection point in the swamp, where there is no power.

That military surplus generator proved too small for the job, so while he waits for a new one Mr. Parke is using a borrowed generator powered by his tractor.  As one neighbor noted, that requires 2 a.m. runs on his ATV to keep the tractor fueled.

When Mr. Ecker-Racz first broke out the Hinman Road with his tractor at the end of February, its front end fell off as it dropped into the open ford.

But he had it fixed in time to deliver the first loads of sap.  And on Tuesday morning with the RO machine sending a gush of concentrated sap into the tank, the two partners were clearly delighted to see their enterprise finally in production.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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Advocates say Reach Up works and should not be cut

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Kate Kanelstein, in the second row at left, testified against imposing a three-year cutoff in the Reach Up program Monday at a Vermont Interactive Television hearing on the state budget. Beside her is Cindy Perron of Barton, who testified on health care. In the foreground at right, George Frisbee, commander of the Jay Peak Post of the American Legion, testifies against a proposed tax on break open tickets. Beside him is Harvey Robitaille, past commander of Legion Post 21 in Newport. Legion members attended the hearings at sites across the state to argue that the tax would cripple the charitable programs the Legion supports in Vermont. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle 2-13-13

NEWPORT — Kate Kanelstein of the Vermont Workers Center was a bit apologetic when she sat in front of the camera during a statewide budget hearing Monday afternoon.

She had planned to bring several women who face the loss of their Reach Up benefits under the cutoff proposed by Governor Peter Shumlin.

But none of them could make it, she told the members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees who convened the hearing.

The women had encountered problems with child care, car troubles, sick family members, and one of them was in labor, Ms. Kanelstein said.

She used her few minutes on Vermont Interactive Television to read a statement from Reach Up participant Jess Ray of West Charleston.

But the explanations she offered the committee might serve as a quick summary of the problems that keep Reach Up participants, typically single mothers, out of the labor force.

Ms. Ray, for example, wrote that she is a mother of two, living with a boyfriend.  “Combined, we get $770 each month.  Our rent is $550 so after paying bills I usually end up with like $20 for everything else.  I love to sew and want to be a seamstress, but I would do pretty much anything if I could get a job.”

Ms. Ray went on the say that the arrival of her first child ended her career at a Barton nursing home five years ago.  “I went on Reach Up for the first time because I didn’t get any maternity leave with my job.”

They left Reach Up when her boyfriend got a job, but returned in less than a year because the company went bankrupt, she wrote.

“Then we got off again when I got a job at Thibault’s Market in Orleans but our car wasn’t inspectable and we didn’t have the money for the repairs so after about three months I couldn’t get there and lost that job, too.  As you can see we live on the edge and it’s really hard to get stable….  Living in West Charleston without transportation makes it incredibly difficult.”

“I also want to understand what you are basing these budget decisions on,” Ms. Ray told the legislators.  “Do you look at the real life situations of people in our communities?  I think that is where we should start.”

The decision in question is whether the Legislature should follow the Governor’s wishes and, on October 1, cut off all families who have been in the Reach Up program for three years.

According to Chris Curtis, a staff attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, 1,188 families would lose their benefits in October, of a total of about 6,400 families on the program.

Of that total, as of September last year, 315 families with 775 family members are in the Newport district of the Department of Children and Families, which oversees Reach Up.  Their benefits that month totaled $147,764, or about $470 a family.

The average Reach Up participant wouldn’t be affected by a three-year cutoff.  According to a state report, “the average amount of time that an individual in Reach Up receives case management services is approximately 24 months.”

But people who know the program in Newport are worried about the impact a cutoff would have.

“My biggest fear is the children,” said Mary Hamel, who runs a job site for Reach Up participants as associate director of employment and training for NECKA.

“Reach up is for families,” Ms. Hamel said.  “Cutting them off is taking away their rent money — the roof over a child’s head.  That concerns me.”

It concerns Mr. Curtis too.  People forced out of Reach Up may end up in the state’s emergency shelter program, he said, and that is already “an exploding part of state government.  What happens if you add another 1,200 families, just as the winter season arrives?”

Other branches of state government, including the Department of Corrections, may face a “ripple effect” from the Reach Up cuts, Mr. Curtis fears.  “Are we really saving any money here?”

His estimate is that the cuts will save Reach Up about $6-million.  “That’s huge to the families,” he said, “but to the General Fund it’s a relatively small amount.”

Mr. Curtis argues that the statistics show Reach Up works for most of the people who are forced to use it.  “The state of Vermont has invested a lot of resources into making this bridge out of poverty,” he argued.  “Why would we blow up that bridge?”

Since she set up a Reach Up work site for NECKA in 2008, Ms. Hamel said, “we have seen many success stories.”

NECKA provides jobs for 15 to 30 Reach Up participants, Ms. Hamel said.  Some work at the Parent Child Center in Newport, as a receptionist or a maintenance worker.  Others work at the cash register or keeping track of the inventory at NEKCA’s thrift store in Newport.

Reach Up has other partners who provide jobs in schools, municipalities and with nonprofit organizations.

The jobs go to Reach Up participants who can’t find work.  They pay nothing (outside of Reach Up benefit payments) but aim to help the participants learn job skills.

Younger Reach Up participants fulfill their job requirement by going to school.

The Governor’s proposal would permit families to take advantage of the full five years of benefits supported by federal block grants.  But there would be interruptions.  After three years, participants would be on their own for a year.  Then they could sign up for another year, be left on their own for a year, and come back to the program for a fifth and final year.

Efforts to reach Paul Dragon, director of the Reach Up program, were unsuccessful.  In his budget address to the Legislature, Governor Shumlin said “there is no better social program than a good paying job.  We will not allow vulnerable Vermonters, such as those who are disabled, to fall through the cracks, but we will ask those who can work to get the training and support they need and get a job.”

If the cutoff becomes law, Ms. Hamel said, “it will cause more homelessness, more hunger, more stress.

“I just don’t think it’s a great idea.  Maybe it’s a good idea to have a conversation about it, but I think it’s a bad thing to take the Governor’s plan seriously.”

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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Bloodhound and owner help find lost pets

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Redford the bloodhound.  Photo by Chris Braithwaite

Redford the bloodhound. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle 12-26-12

ALBANY — Lisa Robinson spends a good deal of her time crashing through the woods or running through the brambles behind a big rangy dog named Redford who might quite possibly be pursuing a cat.

Though she’s not a young woman, and runs on two surgically replaced hips, Ms. Robinson’s accounts of these expeditions suggest that she enjoys every minute of them.

Redford is a bloodhound, and Ms. Robinson makes him — and herself — available to people who have lost household pets.

She and Redford have looked for a Westy that wandered off from his new home in Pownal, in the far southwest corner of Vermont, and a Chinook sled dog in Richford, on the Canadian border.

They’ve looked for a Siamese cat in Barre and a mother-and-son pair of Labrador retrievers in West Glover.

bloodhound pogo copy

James and Lisa Ash of Barre sent Lisa Robinson this photo of their recovered cat, Pogo, who followed them home the day after Redford the bloodhound led them on a search. Pogo disappeared on a Monday evening, and Redford wasn’t called in until the following Saturday. The cat came back on Sunday.

Ms. Robinson doesn’t think there are any other bloodhounds available in Vermont to search for lost pets.  She’d like people to know about Redford so they’ll call her when their pet’s trail is still fresh.  All too often, she says, by the time people locate her by word of mouth their pet has been missing for several days.

That doesn’t stop Redford.  Ms. Robinson says her young bloodhound exhibits the tracking skills his breed is famous for, and can track a missing animal long after it has disappeared from home.

The problem, she says, is that she and the dog can only cover so much ground in a day.  She hangs on tight to his leash on a hunt, for fear that his exuberance for his job will lure him so far ahead of her that he will become one of the missing pets himself.

Redford doesn’t always track down a missing pet.

On several searches, Ms. Robinson says, he’s led her and the missing pet’s owner over long distances to surprising locations, where the animal was eventually found.

But sometimes the trail just comes to a bewildering end, leaving Redford wandering around in uncertain circles.  When that happens, Ms. Robinson suspects the worst — someone picked the pet up and made off with it.  That, sadly, is how the search for the West Glover dogs ended, several miles from their home.

In Barre, the missing Siamese cat showed up the day after Ms. Robinson and Redford had climbed into her aging Subaru and headed home to Albany.  The happy owners believe Redford led them close to it — what self-respecting Siamese would rush out of hiding to greet a drooling bloodhound? — and the cat followed their familiar scent home.

Redford, at three and a half, is a relatively new recruit.  Ms. Robinson got him from a bloodhound rescue group after he was abandoned in Alabama.

He’s a replacement for Thurber, the bloodhound who taught Ms. Robinson the art of tracking.  Thurber is memorialized, in a way, on the sweatshirt his owner was wearing during an interview last week.  It’s decorated with a sketch of a big dog, most likely another bloodhound, by the great American humorist James Thurber.

Ms. Robinson’s first bloodhound was named after the humorist — she has a friendly but offbeat cat named Dillon, and a matching pair named Cassidy and Sundance — and Thurber, like Redford, was a rescued animal.  Their owner thinks the dogs’ difficult early lives only enhanced their ability to find lost animals.  They know what it’s like to be out on the streets, she says.

Thurber was killed by a condition called bloat, and Ms. Robinson is anxious that other dog owners — particularly owners of large dogs — be more aware of its dangers.

“It’s something that really worries me,” she says.  “It affects the large breeds, the big-chested dogs that tend to gulp their food.”

When the condition strikes, Ms. Robinson says, the dog’s stomach swells to look like a barrel and, if tapped, to sound like one too.  The condition is also called torsion, she says, because the dog’s stomach can start to twist, and actually flip over.

If it strikes, Ms. Robinson says, “there is no time.  You’ve got to get to a vet.”

Untreated, she says grimly, a stricken pet faces “a horrible, painful death.”

Since Thurber’s death, Ms. Robinson watches her three bloodhounds closely for bloat, and tries to keep them as still as possible for an hour or so after eating.

At home when he’s not working, Redford is a big, floppy, affable young dog.  This visitor had just left a dog at home, so Redford took a careful inventory of boots, pant legs, shirt cuffs, gleaning heaven knows how much information in the process.

He shares a big fenced enclosure with Simon, a seven-year-old bloodhound who quickly demonstrates a timidity that, his owner says, makes him unfit for tracking.

A good tracker, she says, “needs to be bold and friendly.

“Bloodhounds are stubborn,” she adds.  “They want to find that scent.  They don’t care what’s at the end of it.”

When working, she says, Redford ignores people he would otherwise spend time visiting, and anything he finds along the trail.  She’s been amazed to see him stride heedlessly past bear scat, moose scat, deer scat, even a deer.  But he proudly brought her the frozen scat left behind by that missing Westy.

A third bloodhound, Waseeka, has settled pretty permanently on a rug under a table in Ms. Robinson’s log house.  More than 12 years old, Waseeka has lost much of her vision and her hearing.

There are two horses in a paddock, a Morgan and a Tennessee walker, along with three outside cats and five inside cats, all rescued animals.

Ms. Robinson and her dogs haven’t gone looking for lost people.  That job involves a lot of legal regulations, she says, and a lot of paperwork.

She held a job for years at Kodak in Rochester, New York, before she and Thurber moved to the Northeast Kingdom almost 12 years ago.  Working with that large corporation left her “tired of doing what somebody told me to do.”

But when she’s looking for a lost pet, Ms. Robinson strives to do what Redford tells her to do.

When a dog and handler team makes a mistake, she says, it’s almost always the handler’s fault.

“It’s all about Redford,” she says.  “I’m just his translator and his transportation.  He’s the one who knows what’s going on.”

To help dogs like Redford do their job, Ms. Robinson suggests that pet owners wipe each of their animals with a bit of clean cloth, and put the cloth aside in a sealed and labeled plastic bag.

If the pet ever should come up missing, she says, that will give Redford something to work with.

Ms. Robinson can be reached at 755-6331 or by e-mail at allcritters@wildblue.net.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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Reporter seeks damages for arrest on Lowell Mountain

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 1-9-2013

The legal fight between Green Mountain Power (GMP)  and Chronicle publisher and reporter Chris Braithwaite has shifted from criminal to civil court.

Defense attorney Phil White filed a civil complaint late last month alleging that GMP had violated his client’s civil rights when Mr. Braithwaite was arrested on December 5, 2011, for covering a wind protest on Lowell Mountain.

Mr. White charges that GMP and its agent on the site, David Coriell, “knew or should have known that Braithwaite had permission to be on the property and that, at the very least, misinformation provided by Coriell and GMP to law enforcement had caused Braithwaite to be wrongly taken into custody, arrested, and subsequently charged with and prosecuted for unlawful trespass.”

The civil complaint comes close on the heels of a ruling handed down by Judge Howard VanBenthuysen that dismissed a criminal charge of unlawful trespass brought against Mr. Braithwaite and forbids the state to bring the charges back at a later date.

In dismissing the case with prejudice, Judge VanBenthuysen noted that he failed to see how the state could bring back the charge against the journalist in light of the e-mails among GMP officials giving the press permission to be at the site.

After noting the e-mails only came into view as the case was about to go to trial, the judge wrote:  “Consent is a key element of the offense, and GMP apparently consented to the presence of media at protests, and gave instructions that the media should not be arrested.”

In her brief to the court, Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker argued against dismissing the charge with prejudice, saying the state could still make a case against Mr. Braithwaite by bringing Mr. Coriell, who has since left Vermont, back to testify.

The judge concluded, however, that was stretching the point, as it was unlikely that Mr. Coriell could give testimony that would rebut the evidence found in the e-mails.

“Under the circumstances this is the rare case in which a dismissal with prejudice is appropriate, given the late revelation of consent.”

The ruling was released on December 24 and the day after Christmas, December 26, Mr. White filed a civil complaint against GMP.  Along with the complaint, Mr. White also asked the court to revise a protective order to return to GMP documents that were sealed when the criminal case was still active.

Mr. White argued in his brief that he wanted to retain the documents on the grounds they constitute evidence in the civil suit he is pursuing against GMP.  If the court grants his request, the documents would be kept from public view until further court order.

The civil suit filed by Mr. White seeks damages on four counts:  false arrest; false and malicious prosecution; fraud, slander and false report; and fraudulent concealment.

The suit asks for compensatory damages in the amount of $22,530 (Mr. White’s fee for Mr. Braithwaite’s criminal defense) along with attorney’s fees and expenses in the civil case.  The suit further alleges that Mr. Braithwaite’s civil rights were violated, and seeks punitive damages, which are characteristically sought as a deterrent.

In his discussion of the events leading up to his client’s arrest, Mr. White says that GMP anticipated Mr. Braithwaite’s arrival at the protest and spelled out a course of action for its agent at Lowell Mountain.

GMP officials, according to the complaint, “gave Coriell explicit directions to inform law enforcement that Chris Braithwaite and any other members of the working press who showed up to cover this protest had GMP’s consent to be there to cover this event and that they were not to be arrested.”

As it turned out, Mr. Braithwaite was the only reporter present at the site, and was arrested when he refused a police order to leave.  Mr. White argues that after his client was arrested, GMP failed to step forward to explain their instructions to Mr. Coriell and reverse the arrest.

Their failure to do so, the attorney further argues, violated Mr. Braithwaite’s civil rights.  The attorney said that Mr. Braithwaite, as a journalist, had written “fierce editorials opposing GMP’s commercial wind project” on Lowell Mountain.

“At all times material to this complaint GMP and its agents, including Coriell and Orleans County law enforcement officers have jointly participated in the planning and execution of arrests of protesters,” charges the complaint.

“GMP and/or Coriell were acting under the color of law and engaging in ‘state action’ when they maliciously gave the government false and misleading information with the purpose of causing the government to engage in false arrest and wrongful prosecution.”

Green Mountain Power did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.  Nor has the company filed a response in court to the complaint.  When the possibility of a civil law suit was raised last month, a company spokesman told a reporter that any legal claim against Mr. Coriell would be frivolous.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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To read court documents connected to this case, please click on the links here:  No1-citation

No2-recordcheck

No3-information

No4-Sheriff’s affidavit

No5-Coriell’s affidavit

No6-Brooks affidavit

No7-Motion to Dismiss

No8-state’s response to No7

No9-Defense Memo in support of No7

No10-renewed motion to dismiss

No11-motion to dismiss with prejudice

No12-state’s opposition to No11

No13-judge’s ruling on No11

No14-civil complaint

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Breaking news: Charge against publisher dismissed “with prejudice”

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Wind towers at Lowell Mountain, as seen from Irish Hill Road.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Wind towers at Lowell Mountain, as seen from Irish Hill Road. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

 

copyright the Chronicle 12-27-2012

Judge Howard VanBenthuysen has dismissed “with prejudice” a criminal charge of unlawful trespass against Chronicle Publisher Chris Braithwaite.
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In memoriam: Henry Labrecque

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Jeannette and Henry Labrecque at home in September of 2011. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

Editor’s note:  Henry Labrecque died on December 7, 2012.  In his memory, we republish here an interview Chris Braithwaite did with Mr. Labreque that was first published in the Chronicle in the fall of 2011.

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle, September 28, 2011.

 

BARTON — Nothing could seem more normal on a sunny afternoon in late September than to see Henry and Jeannette Labrecque harvesting a hay crop from a field beside the Cook Road.

The couple might have been seen in such a field more than half a century ago, working with equipment that was a little smaller, a little slower.  But then, as now, you would expect to see Mrs. Labrecque behind the wheel of the tractor.

“One thing I always liked was driving tractor,” she said in a recent interview.

Henry Labrecque might have been seen there 70 years ago, a strapping young teenager, perhaps driving the team of horses, perhaps building the load of loose hay on a wagon.

He has lived on the farm for all but the first four of his 83 years, and worked on it almost that long.

He has a crystal clear memory of his eighth birthday present, a privilege bestowed by his father:

“I could start milking cows by hand.  I’ll never forget that.  I thought I was a man.”

One of his earliest memories of life on the farm, which sits on a deceptively sharp curve on the road to Willoughby Lake, is less positive.

The farmhouse had a bad foundation, he recalls, and its movement had opened cracks in the roof.  A few months after the family moved there in October 1932, young Henry woke in his upstairs bedroom to find “a couple of inches of snow on the sheets.”

That morning, he recalled with a smile, “it didn’t take too long to get dressed.”

Mr. Labrecque’s French-Canadian family had arrived at their ramshackle farmhouse in northern Vermont by an indirect route, one that reflected the times they coped with.

Henry Labrecque. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

His mother, Marie Anne, had moved from Montreal to Lawrence, Massachusetts, to join hundreds of young women in the textile mills.  His father, Jeremie, had moved nearby from his family’s Quebec farm to work at Fafnir Bearing.  They met at the wedding of his neighbor and one of her friends, and married in 1927.

Then the Depression hit.

“In 1931 he got laid off and moved up here, to the Kittridge farm,” Mr. Labrecque said.

That place, now fallen into a ruin, had just been remodeled by the father of Tony Pomerleau, the Burlington developer who is playing a key role in Newport’s redevelopment.

“But he lost it,” Mr. Labrecque said of his father and the Kittridge farm.  “Then he moved here, to the old Pete Damon place.”

Of Mr. Damon’s reason for leaving, Mr. Labrecque said, “Things went wrong with him, too.”

Things were going wrong for a lot of farmers in the early ’30s.  Mrs. Labrecque recalls the bankers of the day with no hint of affection in her voice.

“If they missed a payment by one day, they were evicted,” she said of farmers like Pete Damon.

Yet the bankers gave Jeremie Labrecque a bit of a break.

“The deal was he could stay here, and if he could make a go of it, they’d sell it to him,” Mr. Labrecque said.  “In 1934 they did.”

The farm, then 120 acres, sold for “right around $3,500.”

His father started out with about a dozen cows, milking them by hand.

There was no electricity, Mr. Labrecque recalls.  “We got it the day before Christmas, 1942, which was a Saturday.”

He has sharp memories of the electricians who busied themselves in the house that day, particularly of one universally known as Old Tink Prescott.  “He’d stick his finger in his mouth, then stick it in the socket and say ‘Yep, there’s electricity there.’”

The herd grew steadily over the next decade, as Henry Labrecque grew up.  “When we were married in 1954 there were 25, maybe nearer 30,” Mr. Labrecque said.

“I grew up in Newport Center, a whole 23 miles from here,” Mrs. Labrecque said.

“I knew the road to Newport Center,” her husband said.

He said that with a smile that seemed to recall a farmer in his mid-twenties wooing the girl who would be his wife for (so far) 57 years and with whom he would raise seven children.

It was important to both parents, as their family grew, that they retain the French language.

All seven of their children can speak French, and at least one grown son, Richard, still slips into that language when he talks to his parents.

Jeannette Labrecque keeps a close eye on the baler from the driver’s seat as son Richard Labrecque keeps a close eye on his mother. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

Mrs. Labrecque is a plain-spoken woman, and her voice still conveys some of the fury she felt when a teacher sent a daughter home with the advice that she should be speaking English in their home.

“There was no English spoken in this house,” she said.  “How else would they keep their French?”

“When I started school I knew one word in English,” Henry Labrecque said.  “That was ‘No.’”

At his first day of school he couldn’t so much as ask to go to the bathroom.  Finally recognizing his discomfort, the teacher found a bilingual classmate, a girl who figured out the problem and led young Henry to the outhouse.

Then she translated the teacher’s instructions on the universal code, using his fingers to indicate number one and number two.

But he can still hear the laugher that filled the one-room Devereaux schoolhouse when he raised his middle finger to his teacher, and she calmly bent it down and raised his index finger in its place.

“My mother never could talk English,” Mr. Labrecque said.  “Dad could, after a while.  I picked up the English language, but I kept the French.”

Speaking the French language in northern Vermont had its price, Mr. Labrecque said.

“French-speaking people were looked down on.  If there was a good job, the English speaker got it.  French people, they were farmers.  They worked the land.”

On her drive to school, he recalled, “the teacher would pick up some of the Fisk kids that were neighbors, but I had to walk.”

Yet his bilingual ability proved to be critical to the work he did to support the farm.  He’d drive north into Quebec to buy hay, Christmas trees, and brush for his wreath-making business.

Son Richard has taken that business over, and finds his French essential to negotiations with farmers on the other side of the border.

His business, and his ability to chat with his sources, has made Richard an expert on the state of the Quebec dairy industry.  His key finding:  Quebec’s supply management system, based on quotas, supports a thriving business while Vermont dairying continues to decline.

“When I got out of high school there were 17 farms between Barton and Willoughby Lake,” Henry Labrecque said.  “Now there aren’t any.”  He and Jeannette sold their cows in 1994.

Mr. Labrecque didn’t want to sell them, his wife recalled.  “I said, ‘If you don’t want to sell the cows, you can do the work yourself.’  That changed his mind.”

While he has passed the hay and wreath business on to Richard, Henry continues to haul loads of gravel out of a pit on the farm, even as he recovers from major heart surgery in June.

Talk of the gravel pit brought back other memories of the Depression and the WPA, the Works Progress Administration created by President Franklin Roosevelt to put unemployed men back to work.

“In the winter of 1934-’35 they graveled the road to the Barton Village line — in the winter — with horses.  The WPA had men in the pit shoveling gravel all winter.”

His father worked too, hauling gravel.  “I think that first year it was $2.25 a day, the next year $2.50.  That was for Dad, the horses and the wagon.  That’s what kept the place from going under.”

He remembers touching hands with Roosevelt in 1934, when the President was campaigning in Newport for another term.

Another childhood memory involves the skin of a calf and a cattle dealer who, to this day, Mr. Labrecque is reluctant to name.

“It was during haying in July.  I was seven.  It would have been 1935.  Dad told me, ‘If you skin that calf you can have the money.’”

He remembers running out to meet the cattle dealer as his rounds took him past the farm; remembers the dealer standing on the running board of his truck, his gold teeth, and his ability to speak French.

“All I could talk was French.”

Young Henry offered up the hide, and the dealer agreed to buy it.

“He picked through the change in his hand and gave me a Canadian dime.”

What Henry didn’t know was that the dime was worthless in Vermont.

“I went down to Medie Massey’s store for a nickel ice cream.”  The store was at the corner of Main Street and Duck Pond Road in Barton.

“He asked me if I had any money.  Boy, did I!  I had a dime!  Well, he didn’t give me no ice cream.”

Henry got the same reception at Ralph Moore’s store downtown, and from Mr. Boisvert on Upper Main Street.

“I went into Wallace Foss’ store.  He asked if I had any money.  I showed him my dime.  He said ‘I’ll give you an ice cream and you keep your dime.’  I ended up giving it to the church.”

That dealer “was a tight-fisted son of a gun,” Mr. Labrecque said.  Years later, at a dance in Glover, the dealer had a chance to ask the farmer why he never sold him any cattle.

“So I told him,” Mr. Labrecque said.  “He denied it, but it was the truth.”

Asked which era of farming he most enjoyed, Mr. Labrecque was quick to respond.

“When the whole family was here.  All the kids were here.  We had problems, but they were enjoyable years.”

“It was a good life, but it was seven days a week,” he said.

“Sometimes,” Mrs. Labrecque added, “it felt like eight.”

To read an obituary of Henry Labrecque, please see the obituary pages for December 12, 2012.

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Braithwaite trespassing charge dismissed

Chronicle publisher Chris Braithwaite issued the following statement after his trespassing charge was dismissed today (December 5):

On the day after my arraignment on a charge of unlawful trespass, I wrote that I believed my conduct on Lowell Mountain on December 5, 2011, satisfied the dictates of common sense and the ethics of journalism.  What remained was the daunting task of demonstrating that it was also within the law.  That task came to a successful conclusion today.

It is my hope that journalists who find themselves in a similar situation will bear this case in mind when they are ordered to leave the scene of important public event.

And I hope that police officers will bear this case in mind, when they encounter journalists at the scene of significant public events who are just trying to do their job.

I regret that the documents which would help to explain the state’s decision to dismiss my case remain under court seal.  The Chronicle has asked the court to release these documents, and I hope that my colleagues in journalism will join me in an effort to make this information public.

Below is the story that ran in the newspaper this week (printed in the morning just before the case was dismissed):

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle December 5, 2012

NEWPORT — A jury has been picked for the trial of Chronicle publisher Chris Braithwaite who was arrested as a reporter covering a wind protest on Lowell Mountain roughly a year ago.

The trial is scheduled to start next week on Thursday, December 13, and is expected to last a day.

The trial’s start-up date may be delayed due to a motion filed Tuesday by defense attorney Phil White, asking the charges be dismissed for lack of evidence.

The evidence offered in support of the motion has been largely redacted as a result of the court’s protective order on internal GMP documents subpoenaed by the defense.

Mr. Braithwaite, 68, of West Glover is accused of unlawful trespass for allegedly refusing to obey a police order to leave a mountaintop site while covering demonstrating protesters on December 5, 2011.

Known as the Lowell Six, the protesters were demonstrating against a 21-turbine wind project being built by the utility Green Mountain Power (GMP).  A jury this summer found each of the protesters guilty of unlawful trespass.

Mr. Braithwaite was arrested on the same day and at the same place as the protesters.  But the two cases went their separate ways over an issue whose resolution still remains uncertain.

Presently pending before the court is the issue of whether Mr. Braithwaite will be tried as a private citizen or as a member of the working press who was arrested while doing his job.

Since his arraignment last December, Mr. Braithwaite has asserted that he had only gone to the mountain that day to do his job as a reporter.

Early in the case, Mr. White tried to get the charge thrown out on constitutional grounds, arguing that Mr. Braithwaite had gone to the mountain as a journalist “to cover a protest.”

And as a member of the working press he “should enjoy a special right and privilege under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to cover protest on private property and the government response,” argued Mr. White.

Mr. White was unable to cite any case law in support of his privilege argument and his motion failed.

“There is no legal authority” that gives a member of the working press “privilege to trespass on private property,” wrote Judge Robert Gerety Jr.

Last week, however, the argument was rekindled as both sides prepared for trial before a new judge who recently began his term in Orleans County Superior Court.

Judge Howard VanBenthuysen is expected to rule on a motion this week that will determine if jurors will get to hear defense arguments that a working reporter has special privileges when it comes to gathering news.

Mr. White has put the names of two Northeast Kingdom journalists on his witness list:  Ross Connelly, publisher of the Hardwick Gazette; and Robin Smith, a reporter for the Caledonian-Record.

The state, in turn, has asked the court to strike the two journalists from the list.

Prosecutor Sarah Baker wrote in her motion that neither individual “was a witness present at the time of the offense.”

A deputy state’s attorney with the county, Ms. Baker has asked the court “to exclude any witness whose testimony is offered solely as evidence of a privilege or right of press to be on private property without permission to report on a state response.”

While the judge’s decision is still pending, he did allow Mr. White during last Friday’s jury draw, November 30, to question prospective jurors over how they view the press’s role in a democracy.

For example, the defense attorney asked one juror how important it is for the press in a democracy to report the news.

“I feel strongly that the press have an important role in the democratic process,” she replied.

One juror said she often found the news coverage “very biased.”

But another who was the subject of a news story disagreed.

“They wrote what they saw fit, and I liked what they did,” he said.

Support among members of Mr. Braithwaite’s profession has been slight, with the exception of two Northeast Kingdom newspapers.

Mr. Connelly, who publishes the Hardwick Gazette, spoke out strongly immediately after the arrest in an editorial that said the press must have access if it is to report the news.

“Had Braithwaite not been at the protest site, the press would not have been able to report on the behavior of the protesters or the… police enforcing a public trespass order, sanctioned by the state courts and enacted by the State legislature.”

Mr. Connelly ended the editorial by saying officials were undermining the democratic process “when they sanction the arrest of journalists for doing their jobs.”

Vermont Press Association Executive Director Mike Donoghue acknowledged in an e-mail Tuesday that the arrest could have a chilling effect on the ability of the press to gather news.

“The press has the responsibility to report the news as it happens,” he said.  “The public, who can’t always be present, expects us to be their representatives monitoring government in action.  And that is a privilege.”

Caledonian-Record publisher Todd Smith suggested in an interview last Friday that regional bias may have played a role in the lack of attention the case has received.  He said around the state the Northeast Kingdom is seen as the “red-headed stepchild” and that the Vermont media in general were “a little busted” as a professional organization.

“I support Chris’s principles in going after this, and avoid agreeing to any plea,” said Mr. Smith.  “Journalists have to get access to a site and bear witness to do their job.”

Questions about access to the site and GMP’s role with the press may come to light during the trial, or even sooner.

Last week the court signed a protective order that allows only the prosecutor and the defense to see confidential communications between GMP and others regarding the Lowell Mountain project.

Among other communications, the material to be examined includes documents and internal e-mails created between September 1, 2011, and January 31, 2012, pertaining to “press access or arrest of trespassers on the Project property.”

As a result of the defense request, GMP is required to turn over any documents mentioning Mr. Braithwaite or the Chronicle.

Mr. Braithwaite editorialized repeatedly against the project in his paper.  According to the protective order, GMP received the paper during the September and January time frame.

What the documents and e-mails say may be revealed if Mr. White prevails in his pre-trial motion to dismiss the charge against his client.

“Based on their obvious relevancy and the lack of any corporate interest to keep them sealed, we would respectfully request that they be unsealed by order of the court,” he wrote in his latest motion that was filed this week.

That request exists alongside with another, asking for a pre-trial evidentiary hearing in which GMP officials would be required to give testimony.

The attorney also renewed an earlier argument that dismissal of the charge would be in the interest of justice.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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Statement from attorney Phil White, Esq.:

I’m pleased and thankful that this case has been dismissed by the Orleans County State’s Attorney’s Office.  Anytime a reporter is arrested while covering the government’s arrest of protesters, it is a serious matter.  It raises fundamental concerns about the freedom of the press to act in its constitutionally recognized role as The Fourth Estate.

We have argued that when property rights clash with First Amendment Rights of the working press (particularly when it is acting as the Fourth Estate covering transactions of government), a balancing test should be applied (as it often is when constitutional interests collide).  That issue will not be reviewed in this case any further.   Chris Braithwaite and The Chronicle, to their credit, were fully prepared to seek review of any conviction by the Vermont Supreme Court and even The United States Supreme Court.   It has been an honor to represent him.  And, I hope this discussion will continue.

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Anna Baker was a brilliant artist with a comic touch

copyright the Chronicle, August 8, 2012

World of Fantasy, The Life and Art of Anna P. Baker, by Beryl Hutchinson and Roz Hermant.  Self-published.  185 pages in paperback.  $59.95.

Reviewed by Chris Braithwaite

I need to begin this review by confessing my bias.  Anna P. Baker, the subject of this richly illustrated work, was both a close friend and an important contributor in the Chronicle’s early years, when it remained to be seen whether it would sink or swim as a community newspaper.

That it swam, I believe, was due in large measure to one of the most unlikely duos to ever put ink to paper.  Loudon Young was a dairy farmer all his life, and his role in my life as friend, neighbor and mentor in the ways of rural Vermont predated the first Chronicle by four years.  When I asked him if he thought a weekly newspaper in Barton would have a chance of survival he said he didn’t think so.  Given his preference for color in language, he more likely said that such an enterprise would have a snowball’s chance in hell.

So it was a considerable surprise when he volunteered a column for the first issue, and a greater surprise to discover that this highly accomplished talker could also write, and that his writing was very funny, indeed.  His back-page column immediately became a weekly feature in the paper.

We didn’t make Anna Baker’s acquaintance until we were moving the office from a farmhouse in East Albany to an old barbershop on Barton’s Upper Main Street, and she wandered in to find out what the devil her new next-door neighbors were up to.

She found us amusing.  But then Anna found most things in life amusing.  That knack, along with the most exquisite good manners I have encountered in another human being, were pretty much what got Anna through an otherwise challenging life.

Anna told us she was an artist.  But I don’t think she mentioned that she was also a cartoonist.  She was a good enough cartoonist that, as a 16-year-old art student at a London, Ontario, technical school, she was interviewed for a possible career in animation with the Disney Studios.

I didn’t know that last detail until I read this book.  At any rate, it wasn’t long before Anna brought in a cartoon she thought we might like to publish.  Her chosen subject?  None other than the above-mentioned Loudon Young.  Loudon’s profile — a sharp chin often decorated with a bit of a beard, a sharp and substantial nose — was a cartoonist’s dream.  But it was Loudon’s humor that captured Anna, because his ear for what was funny about the most ordinary, everyday situations so exactly matched her eye.

Both of them thought there was something fundamentally funny about the common cow.  Loudon wrote about them constantly.  In her book, Beryl Hutchinson reproduces the first Baker painting she acquired.  Called Pent House Farm, it was executed at that same technical school, which Anna attended in 1944-45.  It’s a whimsical, wonderfully busy urban landscape with people farming on the rooftops of a couple of apartment buildings.  Ms. Hutchinson is careful to point out that it includes, atop one roof, Anna Baker’s first cow, a Holstein.

Anna’s renderings of Loudon and his cows appeared in many Chronicles over the years that followed.  They accompanied the best of Loudon’s columns in the Chronicle’s first book, Off Main Street, West Glover, Vermont, and the dairyman and his Holsteins were featured in a series of calendars she drew for the paper.

A generous selection of these cartoons is included in World of Fantasy.  But there are also many of her “serious” works — whimsical, intensely detailed, richly colored paintings that will delight the fans who have an Anna Baker hanging on the living room wall, and surprise those who know her work only through the Chronicle.

As we grew to know Anna, it became obvious that we were in the presence of an artist of great talent and considerable reputation.  Her works caught the eye of critics and connoisseurs wherever they were displayed.  That her reputation didn’t reach further was to some degree her own fault.  She volunteered once that a friend, a sophisticate in the business of art, had told her she couldn’t find success as an artist if she insisted on living in a backwater like Barton, Vermont.  She needed to be in New York City.  Anna acknowledged the advice as sound, and chose not to take it.  Whatever glue held her to the Northeast Kingdom, we are all the richer for it.

Beryl Hutchinson enjoyed a friendship with Anna Baker that went back to high school.  Her book includes a photo of a schoolgirl softball team named the Eagles with Anna in the front row, Beryl in the back.

Thus Ms. Hutchinson was the ideal person to stitch together this fully illustrated biography of the artist.  She opens with a surprising revelation about Anna’s origins — a surprise best left to her readers — and takes us through the artist’s school days, her formal education at the Art Institute of Chicago, which she entered in 1951, and the early teaching career that led to her friendship with Bunny Hastings, daughter of a prominent Barton physician.  That friendship brought Anna to Barton, and lasted the rest of Bunny’s life.

Anna beat cancer once, but lost the second round and died in 1985, at just 56.

To all of those who still miss her kindness, her wit, and her great talent, this book will serve as long-awaited consolation.

To buy World of Fantasy, go to “contacts” at  www.annabaker.net, or see www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3334768.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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Safe Choices 19 – St. Francis wants to take over his own life

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle June 23, 2010

NEWPORT — George St. Francis wants to get out from under the control of his guardian and take over his own life.

Meanwhile, he faces a court process that could severely limit the freedoms he currently enjoys.  He could be returned to the control of a state guardian and be subjected to 24-hour arm’s length supervision, something like a prison without walls.

Which way his life will go is up to Judge Walter Morris, who had been conducting a series of Family Court hearings into his case.

A motion seeking Mr. St. Francis’ emancipation as a competent adult has been filed by his attorney, Susan Davis.

If he were to grant the motion, Judge Morris would essentially end any state or court supervision of Mr. St. Francis.

And it would leave unresolved a question that clearly worries the judge, and other state and mental health practitioners who have dealt with him:  Is he a potential sex offender, and as such a threat to public safety?

As he sat on the bench Thursday, June 17, at the latest of a long series of hearings on Mr. St. Francis, Judge Morris faced two radically different views of the man.

His lawyer and his advocates, his wife and his friends, see him as a victim of a system that exaggerated both his disability and his potential to harm others.  As a result, they said, Mr. St. Francis spent 14 years in a system that confined him, humiliated him, over-medicated him with psychiatric drugs, and kept him far away from “normal” people and relationships.

On Thursday his lawyer, Susan Davis, went a step further and maintained that her client is not mentally retarded.  It was that diagnosis, accepted by a Superior Court judge in 1996, that cost Mr. St. Francis his freedom and put him in the hands of a program that tried to help him while, at the same time, protect the public from him.

On the other hand, Judge Morris must consider a file on Mr. St. Francis that runs to 1,100 pages, and apparently contains allegations and evaluations which raise the alarming possibility that, left to his own devices, he could become a sex offender.  Although the Chronicle has been granted limited access to the Family Court proceedings, which are normally held behind closed doors, the newspaper is not privy to the documents which support this view of Mr. St. Francis.

A year ago his problems seemed close to resolution.  Judge Morris’ predecessor in the case, Judge Robert Bent, had agreed that Mr. St. Francis should be released from the control of his state guardian.  She was replaced by Janet Reed of Albany, an advocate for Mr. St. Francis and a determined foe of the program, Safe Choices, that controlled his life for years.

Run by Northeast Kingdom Human Services, the local community mental health agency, Safe Choices was created to deal with sex offenders who are so mentally handicapped that, as a constitutional matter, they cannot be tried for their crimes.

Mr. St. Francis does not fit that description.  He is one of several men who were sent to Safe Choices because a guardian or family member was worried about their sexual behavior.

And far from being too mentally disabled to stand trial, Mr. St. Francis has on at least three occasions been the subject of minor criminal charges brought by his keepers in Safe Choices.

On the day she took over as Mr. St. Francis’ guardian, in late July last year, Ms. Reed permitted him to marry Kathy McCammon, a woman who, state officials have repeatedly asserted, abused him in 2003 by sleeping with him while serving as his caregiver.  That allegation has been investigated, but never proven, and both Ms. McCammon and Mr. St. Francis deny it.

Under a carefully negotiated court order, Mr. St. Francis was to be treated by Sterling Area Services, a mental health agency based in Morrisville, and to live under the close supervision of a couple in Northfield.

When Mr. St. Francis failed to keep an appointment with a Sterling therapist and moved in with his new wife, the agency terminated its treatment.

Judge Morris ruled in May that Ms. Reed violated the court order when she permitted her ward to marry and change his residence.  Among the possible consequences for her, the judge wrote, could be a finding of contempt of court.

Among the consequences for Mr. St. Francis, he said, could be a return to state guardianship.

But in court last week a spokesman for the state resisted that possibility.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Myka was there to represent the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL), which oversees the state guardian system.

“It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the department to take over Mr. St. Francis,” she told Judge Morris.

Given all that’s happened between the personalities involved, she said, “I just cannot see how we can interject ourselves in this… in a way that would be productive.”

Nor did Sterling Services show any appetite to resume treatment of Mr. St. Francis.  “Sterling doesn’t believe it can get involved at this time,” said its attorney, Robert Halpert.

The private guardianship has failed, Judge Morris said in obvious frustration.  “The question is, what are we going to do?”

If he ordered another risk assessment of Mr. St. Francis, the judge asked, “can the department be of any assistance?””

“Certainly, the department could arrange for another assessment,” Ms. Myka replied.

Mr. St. Francis’ attorney, Ms. Davis, tried to shape the nature of any further evaluation of Mr. St. Francis.

“It’s not the evaluation per se we’re concerned about,” she told the judge.  “The prior evaluation was based on tons and tons of records.  Many were exaggerated or false.”

A new evaluation should be done without reference to those records, she argued.

But without them, Judge Morris replied, “How could it be a competent evaluation?”

In the end, Judge Morris ordered a new assessment that would include a “psycho-sexual” evaluation.  He asked Ms. Myka to arrange for a specialist for the job, after consulting with Ms. Davis and Trudy Miller, the attorney for Ms. Reed.

Ms. Davis could obtain independent evaluations, he noted, and present those to the court.  She and Ms. Miller could also challenge the findings of the court-ordered evaluation, he added.

He set the next hearing on the matter for early August.

In the lengthy motion she filed to terminate the guardianship altogether, Ms. Davis wrote that “two separate and independent psychologists have determined George St. Francis to NOT be mentally retarded.”

Until September 2009, Ms. Davis said, the people in charge of Mr. St. Francis medicated him with Prozac, lithium carbonate, Topamax and Seroquel.  “He was taking ALL of these, concurrently, and has been for years,” she wrote.

“Side effects of these medications include drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue/insomnia, and headaches.  Side effects of the lithium include blackouts, seizures, slurred speech and confusion.  Side effects of Topamax include mental and physical slowing and delays, coordination problems, confusion, difficulty with concentration and attention.”

“Today,” Ms. Davis wrote, “clear of thought and medication, with a home, a wife, a life on the farm and the security that that brings, he no longer wants a guardianship of any kind.”

Though he has attended the hearings on his fate, Mr. St. Francis has never had an opportunity to testify.  On Thursday, waiting in the corridor for proceedings to start, Mr. St. Francis chatted with his guardian’s husband, Alan Reed, who seems to be a particular friend.

Mr. St. Francis, a large man with a quick smile and a keen sense of humor, sought detailed advice from Mr. Reed on how to deal with a tractor that had broken down on his wife’s farm.

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Safe Choices 20 – Judge insists on psychosexual evaluation

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle July 21, 2010

NEWPORT — At a hearing Monday in Orleans Family Court, Judge Walter Morris declined a formal request that he change his mind, and insisted that George St. Francis undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.
In his efforts to win his freedom from court and state control, Mr. St. Francis faces official concerns that he is a potential sex offender.  Judge Morris ordered the psycho-sexual evaluation in June as part of a more general evaluation of Mr. St. Francis, who was judged to be retarded by a Superior Court judge in 1996, when he was 18.
His lawyer, Susan Davis, argues that Mr. St. Francis is neither dangerous nor retarded.  In the “motion for extraordinary relief” she filed with the court on July 13, Ms. Davis argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to subject her client to a procedure which she called “intimate, probing, distressing and invasive.”
However, referring to an evaluation of Mr. St. Francis that was conducted in October 2009, Judge Morris said “there is an evaluation that frankly says there is a high degree of risk.”
He added, however, that he believes the specialists who treat and measure sexual aberrations have dropped a particularly controversial piece of apparatus called the “penile plethysmograph.”  In case they haven’t, he added, he would order that the plethysmograph not be used on Mr. St. Francis.
The device was used to measure a man’s response to particular types of sexual stimuli.
In her motion, Ms. Davis said that “a psycho-sexual evaluation may include up to six hours of interrogation, forced viewing of sexually suggestive or violent materials, and in some cases linking the individual’s private parts to electronic probes to determine his or her response to sexual stimuli.”
One former client of the Safe Choices program, which imposed its treatment on Mr. St. Francis for years, told the Chronicle that he had been subjected to a plethysmograph test.
Judge Morris also declined to grant Ms. Davis’ request that he put a hold on the Family Court proceedings while she appealed his decision to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Monday’s hearing was a small part of a case that has been before Family Court for well over a year.
Mr. St. Francis was under the control of a state-appointed public guardian, and a reluctant client of the Safe Choices program when it began.
The court put him under the control of a private guardian, Janet Reed, who is a determined critic of the Safe Choices program and its methods.
But Judge Morris has ruled that Ms. Reed violated the court’s order when she permitted Mr. St. Francis to get married and move out of a Northfield home in which he was to be closely supervised.
The court is struggling with the question of what to do with Mr. St. Francis next.
Meanwhile, Ms. Davis is prepared to present evidence that her client, while not of average intelligence, does not meet the low standard required to deny him the freedoms of an ordinary citizen.
Testimony from expert witnesses for Mr. St. Francis is expected at a hearing in early August.
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