Editorials and opinions

Keep criminal trials in Orleans County

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Editorial

When people who are paid to disagree find common ground, we pay attention.

Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett and defense lawyer David Sleigh both say plans by the Vermont Judiciary to hold Orleans County criminal trials in Barre should be scrapped.

We agree.

Many local defendants don’t have a driver’s license or money for gas and there is no public transportation to Washington County.  Making people charged with crimes or witnesses find a way to get to Barre could cause hardships.

Someone who might have taken a couple of hours from work to testify in a case heard in Newport will be faced with losing a day’s pay if a three-hour roundtrip to Barre is added in.

Family and friends of the person charged or the victim of the crime may also find it hard to get to the trial to see for themselves that justice is done.

Perhaps most importantly, juries will come from Washington, rather than Orleans, County.  Will they truly be the defendant’s peers?

Public health is an important factor.  Trials bring together large numbers and state officials say airflow in the two Orleans County court buildings doesn’t meet COVID-era standards.

Updating ventilation and air conditioning systems in Newport’s courthouses would be expensive.  More than a year ago the state Judiciary said the state courthouse is obsolete and must be replaced with a new building.  Since then nothing has been done to make that happen.

Ms. Barrett scouted the area and gave state officials a list of buildings in Newport and Derby that might be used as temporary courthouses.  They chose not to investigate her suggested locations.

Nor have they considered another suggestion, bringing in trailers earlier used for trials in Bennington County until a new courthouse is put up.

Moving Orleans County trials to Barre will result in a serious loss of transparency for the court system.

Holding trials far from where defendants and victims live will diminish the trust on which the judicial system rests.

The COVID-shuttered doors of the Orleans courthouse already make it difficult to know what happens behind them.

Vermont’s courts are paid for by the state’s citizens.  It acts in those citizens’ name.  A person may only be deprived of liberty or property by their actions.

They must operate openly where the people most affected can easily observe them.

Everyone has the right to have his or her case heard by a jury of peers.  The people of Orleans County, also have a right to see what is done in their name without taking a long drive.

The convenience of a state agency weighs lightly against a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

JG

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