After IROC: White strives to continue outdoor events

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage.  Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games.  Photo by Tena Starr

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage. Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Phil White, lawyer, former county prosecutor, and the man who tried so valiantly to save IROC, has taken on a new venture.

Mr. White has started a for-profit company called Kingdom Games to organize and promote outdoor activities such as biking, swimming and running in the Northeast Kingdom.  Next year, Kingdom Games will offer about 15 events designed for both amateur and professional athletes.   Some of those will be the popular events that IROC hosted, such as the Dandelion Run and the Kingdom Swim.  Others will be new.

“When IROC closed there was a real risk that the summer events would end,” Mr. White said in a recent interview at his modest home on Lake Memphremagog.  He said he couldn’t let them end this past summer, since so many people had already registered.  It would have left a bad taste about the Kingdom if the year’s events had been abruptly canceled, he said.

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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

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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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Publisher’s trespassing case dismissed

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The Lowell Mountain wind towers as seen from Irish Hill. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 12-12-2012

NEWPORT — A utility wind developer company that tried to do the right thing by the press appears to have shot itself in the foot when it allowed the arrest of a reporter and then failed to step forward and rectify an action contrary to company policy.

The Orleans County state’s attorney’s office last week dismissed a criminal charge of unlawful trespass brought against Chris Braithwaite, a reporter for and publisher of the Chronicle in Barton.

Mr. Braithwaite, who had been spearheading his paper’s coverage of the wind project on Lowell Mountain and the controversy it triggered, went to the site on December 5, 2011, to cover a demonstration that protesters had scheduled for the morning.

Police intervened and arrested six protesters, who became known as the Lowell Six.  A jury found each of them guilty of unlawful trespass this summer.  Mr. Braithwaite also was arrested despite his claims he only had gone to the site to cover the demonstration as a reporter.

When news of his case’s dismissal was announced last week, Mr. Braithwaite, 68, of West Glover, released the following statement:

“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.”

Dismissal came as the case was preparing to go to trial and after defense attorney Phil White subpoenaed internal e-mails that passed back and forth among officials of Green Mountain Power Company (GMP.)

The documents show that GMP intended to give Mr. Braithwaite and other reporters access to its Lowell Mountain site, where protesters were demonstrating against the construction of a 21-turbine wind project.

“Does anyone know what happened,” asked Robert Dostis, a GMP official who works with communities and who was responding to colleagues about an editorial against the arrest.

To GMP’s site manager at Lowell Mountain, he went on express surprise that an arrest had occurred.

“Frankly, I don’t understand why Chris was arrested since you gave exact instructions that he not be,” he wrote in an e-mail dated December 10.

A day later, a second official struck a similar note.

“I think now we have to put an end to the notion we tried to stop the media, when we simply did not,” wrote a GMP consultant Stephen Terry in an internal e-mail sent six days after the arrest.

He then repeated a question asked earlier by the company’s public relations officer:  “Did the leadership instruction not to arrest CB just not get relayed fast enough Monday morning?”

While release of the e-mails helped to end the criminal charge, they may have opened a new chapter in the case.

Attorney White said Monday he had asked for an apology from GMP as well as compensation for expenses and legal fees that came to $22,330.

“Had Green Mountain Power disclosed this information to the State Attorney’s Office promptly, Chris never would have had to undergo a year facing criminal charges,” wrote Mr. White in an e-mail.

“Instead, GMP sat on its hands and did nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Mr. White said he hoped that GMP would “do the right thing” by apologizing and paying Mr. Braithwaite.

But that appeared unlikely Tuesday.

GMP Public Relations Officer Dorothy Schnure said that it was Mr. Braithwaite’s refusal to leave the site that caused him to be arrested.  And once an arrest occurred, it was out of GMP’s hands.

“It’s not our case, it’s the state’s,” she said, adding later:  “While we had hoped he wouldn’t be arrested, that’s what played out.”

She declined to comment Tuesday if the company had received Mr. White’s request of GMP to pay for his client’s legal fees and expenses.

In an e-mail later in the day Ms. Schnure stated:

“Frankly, the proposition that David Coriell acted inappropriately and that it gives grounds for a legal claim by Chris Braithwaite is frankly frivolous.”

On Monday Judge Howard VanBenthuysen, who presided over the case, released some of the documents, which had been sealed under an agreement between the defense and prosecution.

The judge noted they had been submitted in support of the defense motion to dismiss with prejudice and were now part of the public record.

He also said he would not rule on the motion to dismiss the case with prejudice until the state had a chance to respond.  If a case is dismissed without prejudice, the state can bring it again.  He set a deadline of December 26 for the prosecution to respond.

Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Baker said in an interview Tuesday she would file a response opposing the motion because there is still evidence available that would enable the state to win the case.

She said her motion would also explain why the state dismissed the charge, adding that her office did not want to inconvenience a witness and former employee of GMP who has since moved from Vermont.  Ms. Baker also said there were documents in the file that had not been unsealed and that would help the state prove its case, in the event it was brought back.

The documents that came to light this week indicated that the state’s dismissal may have hinged on the failure of a GMP employee at the scene on the day of the arrest to correctly inform police officers of the company’s policy toward arresting Mr. Braithwaite and any other journalists covering the protest.

As GMP officials scrambled to learn what had happened, David Coriell, its representative at the site during the protest, tried to explain to his bosses in two e-mails why the arrest had occurred.

The first e-mail sent on the day of the arrest stated: “Braithwaite and another woman stopped at the edge of the construction site and started taking pictures.  Phil Brooks, the Orleans Co. Chief Deputy, asked Braithwaite and the woman to get back another 50 feet to the Nelson property.  The woman complied.  Braithwaite chose to stay.  Brooks approached Braithwaite and after a short conversation he asked him to leave or come back and stand with those willing to be arrested.  Braithwaite walked back and stood with those being arrested.”

In the second e-mail, dated December 11, Mr. Coriell told his bosses that the no-arrest instructions “didn’t get relayed to all the officers involved.

“That said, I know the Sheriff had no intention of arresting Chris.  Chris actually arrested himself by physically walking back to the middle of the crane path.”

He went on to say that Mr. Braithwaite called the officer an expletive.  The officer charged that the reporter had stepped “over a professional line.”

Ms. Schnure said Tuesday the scene that day at the site was confusing, with cell phones losing signal and people milling around.  She called the arrest Tuesday “a breakdown in communications.”

Concerned that another protest at the mountain was coming, GMP officials huddled and considered what they should do about access and the press, and what instructions to give the police.  An e-mail from Ms. Schnure to GMP managers on December 11 laid out a possible course of action.

“Dave confirm that sheriff will be there early if at all possible.  Ensure sheriff knows media has permission to be there.  Tell Sheriff we really don’t want any reporters arrested.”

Mr. Terry, the consultant, agreed, calling the proposed instructions “a good way to pre-empt another journalism arrest which was never our intent or purpose here.”

While it is still unclear how far the documents went in convincing the state to dismiss the charge, they did provide a picture of GMP managers working to ensure similar arrests of reporters would not occur at future demonstrations.

“We have to minimize the public and political fallout of decisions made on the mountain,” wrote Mr. Dostis in a December 10 e-mail.

“Arresting reporters will do more harm than good.”

Ms. Schnure said repeatedly Tuesday that it was Mr. Braithwaite’s actions that caused his arrest.  And that he was not owed an apology by GMP.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

 

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Former Orleans County prosecutor in jail in Arizona

Gary Karpin. Photo from Maricopa County Attorney's office video.

by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle June 20, 2012

 

A former Orleans County prosecutor is spending 15 years in prison in Arizona for bilking clients by pretending he could help them with divorce cases.  Despite the fact that he’d been disbarred in Vermont, he presented himself as qualified to perform services that he either couldn’t, or didn’t.  He’s believed to have earned at least $1-million through fraudulent behavior and to have had hundreds of victims.

According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, Arizona, Gary Karpin exhibited a romantic interest in some of his clients and wooed them with the appearance of professionalism as well as his own personal charm.  He presented himself as a lawyer or mediator and charged absurd prices for services he often could not legally perform.

In one case, he charged a woman $87,000 for a relatively simple divorce that should have cost no more than $2,000.  The woman testified at his trial that she’d thought he was legitimately able to provide legal services and that he had her best interests at heart.

Most recently, the state has located some of Mr. Karpin’s assets, and he has been ordered to pay his victims back for their losses.

Mr. Karpin, who was an assistant state’s attorney in Orleans County under Phil White, was disbarred here for unethical behavior in the early 1990s.

According to the state’s attorney’s office in Arizona, he was found guilty in 2008 on 24 counts of theft and accepting fees and failing to perform promised legal services.  The case dragged on, largely due to his own attempts to delay it, but he was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $240,000 in restitution to 25 victims, although he apparently had many more.

“After being disbarred in Vermont, Karpin relocated to the Phoenix area in 1996 and presented himself as an attorney specializing in divorce, despite not being licensed to practice law in Arizona,” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a press release last week.

“He attracted clients with ads promising ‘divorce with dignity’ at affordable rates.  Over a nine-year period, Karpin is believed to have victimized more than 300 people by charging sometimes exorbitant fees for legal services that were poorly, and frequently never, performed.”

Mr. Karpin tried to transfer all his assets to avoid paying restitution to victims, but the Asset Recovery Bureau of the Maricopa State’s Attorney’s Office found $197,000 that it plans to distribute among his victims, Mr. Montgomery’s office said.

“He did a number of things to create the impression that he was a lawyer, or licensed to provide legal services,” Jerry Cobb, public information officer for the Maricopa Attorney’s Office, said in an interview.

For instance, a number of credentials were framed and hung on the walls of his tidy office.  “He also used letterhead stationery that had a legal look and had the name of a firm,” Mr. Cobb said.  “He also used the name of a firm, or a couple, with which he was not actually associated.  He did a number of things like that.

“This was a big case here in terms of the number of victims.  There were something like 40 named victims, but we have statements from more than 300 people who claimed he defrauded them.  The news last week was that the victims are now finally receiving restitution.”

Mr. Karpin had repeatedly been told by the bar association to “cease and desist,” Mr. Cobb said.  However, there was no mechanism to actually make him.

“He’s a very personable guy, very professional in his demeanor,” Mr. Cobb said.  “He’s very good at getting people’s confidence. He was victimizing people when they were at their most vulnerable. There were at least 30 victims with whom he had some sort of romantic connection.  Either he dated them, or he made amorous advances.”

Although Mr. Karpin has not been accused of any kind of sexual abuse, he did take advantage of his female victims’ vulnerability, Mr. Cobb said.

He also took advantage of the fact that people don’t usually talk about what they’re paying for a lawyer, and many people clearly did not know that they were being charged exorbitant fees.

“He was a real nasty case,” Mr. Cobb said.  “It was a combination of his art of deception and his ability to gain people’s confidence when they were in need of help and not terribly knowledgeable.  He exploited that confidential relationship.  He took a personal interest in many of his clients, and you become more and more trusting and less and less willing to suspect someone.”

The woman who was charged $87,000 ended up getting a note from a friend who suggested she Google Mr. Karpin, saying it appeared he had been disbarred.  She did and was shocked by his history.

Mr. Cobb said that after the case became public hundreds of people called, equally shocked to learn that Mr. Karpin was not, in fact, a lawyer.  He said that, as far as his office has been able to calculate, Mr. Karpin earned “in the neighborhood of $1-million in ill gotten gains.”

The young Vermont Law School graduate launched his career in 1987, practicing in Maine, then in Vermont, where he worked briefly as an assistant prosecutor before setting up private practice.

In 1991, following a series of complaints and questionable incidents, Vermont’s Professional Conduct Board strongly recommended that he be disbarred.

“The panel is convinced that the depth and breadth of respondent’s unethical conduct is so significant and wide-ranging that he is a threat to the public, the profession, the courts, and his clients,” the three-member panel wrote in its report.  “The only factors present in mitigation are his absence of a prior disciplinary record and his inexperience in the practice of law.  Since, however, the violations span nearly the entire time he has been a member of the Vermont bar, the absence of prior violations is of little relevance.

“On the other hand, almost every aggravating factor articulated in the American Bar Association Standards is present here:  dishonest and selfish motives, a pattern of misconduct, multiple offenses, submission of false evidence, refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct….”

The Vermont cases included a Jay couple who suffered damages because of a malfunctioning furnace and hot water heater.  The couple was paid by both the furnace installer and the insurance company, but Mr. Karpin told them not to worry about it because the second payment “covered a different loss.”  When the insurance company realized what had happened, Mr. Karpin tried to blame his clients for the double payment, the Professional Conduct Board’s report said.

In another case, he went ahead with a settlement with a car dealer that his client didn’t want to take after the lawyer had dragged the matter out for six months with no action.  He was also accused of lying to his client.

Mr. White complained that soon after Mr. Karpin left his office, in private practice he took on a client who he had prosecuted in his earlier role, a conflict of interest and violation of ethics rules.

It’s unclear if Mr. Karpin’s behavior in Vermont was the result of incompetence, laziness, deception, or all three.

In Arizona, however, there’s far less doubt.

He displayed framed certificates showing he’d been accepted to practice law in Vermont and Maine.  He called himself a divorce mediator who prepared legal documents and promised to resolve disputes before the couple went to court.

A weekly newspaper in Arizona, the Phoenix New Times, wrote about Mr. Karpin’s activities early on and posted an e-mail from him saying that since he’d been advertising his business with the paper in the hope of promoting it, he expected no adverse publicity.

However, he was well known to the prosecutor’s office, Mr. Cobb said.  That office made a video (posted on the Chronicle’s website www.bartonchronicle.com) about him.  In it, one of his victims testifies how she felt duped.  Also, a prosecutor says Mr. Karpin lived a fine lifestyle with a Corvette convertible as well as a $750,000 home that was nearly paid off.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com

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