Judiciary of Vermont
The Vermont courts are established in the Vermont Constitution in sections 28-41 (Judiciary Department). The justices of the Vermont Supreme Court and judges of all lower courts except assistant judges and probate judges are hold six-year terms, which are renewable following a majority retention vote in the Vermont General Assembly.
All Vermont Constitution provides for a mandatory retirement of Supreme Court justices and lower court judges at 90 years of age, as prescribed by law by the General Assembly, or if the General Assembly has not so provided by law at the age of 70 or at the end of the term of election during which they attain the age of 70. The constitution also provides that justices and judges be given a pension as provided by law and that the chief justice "may from time to time appoint retired justices and judges to special assignments as permitted under the rules of the Supreme Court."
The Vermont Supreme Court is the state supreme court, based in the state capital of Montpelier. Because Vermont has no intermediate appellate courts, it is the sole state appellate court, mainly hearing appeals on questions of law from lower courts, although there are a few instances in which the Court has original jurisdiction. The Supreme Court also is responsible for administration of the Vermont court system; it makes state court procedural rules.
- The Supreme Court shall exercise appellate jurisdiction in all cases, criminal and civil, under such terms and conditions as it shall specify in rules not inconsistent with law. The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction only as provided by law, but it shall have the power to issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of its appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court shall have administrative control of all the courts of the state, and disciplinary authority concerning all judicial officers and attorneys at law in the State.
In 2008, justices were paid $129,245 annually. This ranks 41st in the nation.
The state constitution provides for the creation of lower courts that may have original and appellate jurisdiction and be divided into geographical and functional divisions, "as provided by law or by judicial rules adopted by the Supreme Court not inconsistent with law." The state constitution also provides that state courts may act as both courts of law and courts of equity.
Vermont Statutes have established a number of courts, each exercising jurisdiction in one of the 14 Vermont counties. The courts are based in shire towns (County seats), where the courthouses are located. The state's attorney may earn $89,003.20 annually. The county sheriff may earn $65,790.40 annually.
In 2010 the court system was integrated. The criminal, civil, family and environmental courts became part of a new Superior Court. The Probate Court will be merged with the family court in February 2011. That is when all county employees become state employees.
Superior Courts exercise exclusive jurisdiction over most civil cases, including torts and lawsuits over small claims of $5000 or less. Superior courts also reviews decisions of lower courts and appeals to administrative agency decisions. Three judges, a presiding judge and two assistant judges sit on each Superior Court. The assistant judges (or side judges) are elected county officials, who sit with the judge in certain cases and are responsible for non-judicial county affairs as well, an unusual system unique to Vermont. Each Superior Court also has a court clerk and deputy court clerk, appointed by the court. The Superior Court clerk is also the county clerk and the clerk of the county court.
District Courts hear almost all criminal cases and a few civil cases, including civil suspension of driver's licenses and fish and wildlife, traffic ticket, and municipal ordinance violations. There are 17 District Court judges: one in each county except for Chittenden County (the most populous in the state), which has six. A district judge may earn $122,865 annually.
Family courts hear family law matters, including marriage (divorce, annulment, desertion, and separation); child support; parentage; domestic violence and orders of protection for domestic abuse victims; juveniles (delinquency, abuse and neglect) and commitments to the Vermont State Hospital, the state psychiatric hospital. District Court judges, Superior Court judges, Family Court magistrates and assistant judges sit in Family Court. All Family Court matters except for child support are mainly decided by the presiding judge; child support orders are the responsibility of Family Court magistrates. No jury trials take place in Family Court. If one or both are available, side judges may sit with the presiding judge. In some jurisdictions, the Superior Court judge may be the presiding judge of the Family Court as well.
Probate Courts deal with probate, wills and testamentary trusts, adoptions, guardianship, emancipation of minors, uniform gifts to minors, and name changes. There are 18 Probate Court judges, elected for four-year terms; Probate Court judges need not be attorneys. The clerk of the probate court is appointed. A typical salary for the judge is $51,542.40. A typical salary for the clerk is $30,721.60.
Vermont Environmental Court
The Vermont Environmental Court is a specialized court dealing with environmental law. The Court hears appeals from municipal boards and commissions and appeals from Act 250 decisions as well as cases from the Agency of Natural Resources, Natural Resource Board, and municipal enforcement. There are two Environmental Court judges on the court, which is based in Barre.
Vermont Judicial Bureau
The Vermont Judicial Bureau is a quasi-judicial body whose jurisdiction is over complaints issued by state and local law enforcement officers, including civil violation complaints (traffic tickets), municipal ordinances, fish and wildlife violations, hazing, and minors possessing alcohol. Defendants may admit to the complaint and pay the penalty, usually a fine, or can contest the violation cited and have the cases decided by a hearing officer. During the hearing, both parties may present evidence and call witnesses. The burden of proof for the state or municipality is clear and convincing evidence. Either party may appeal the decision in District Court. There are four hearing officers.
The judiciary system budget was approximately $30 million in 2009.
- Remsen, Nancy (1 July 2010). "Share the road. It's thee law". Burlington, Vermont: Burlington Free Press. pp. 1A, 54A.
- Keenan, Dan (24 March 2010). "Letter to the editor:Budget cuts in the Vermont judiciary system could be penny wise and pound foolish". Barton, Vermont: the Chronicle. p. 4.