Candidates for top law office talk about Tasers, Yankee, and other issues
by Mike Eldred
Oct 25, 2012 | 1441 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Editor’s note: We asked the four candidates for Vermont Attorney General a number of questions concerning this year’s race. All four candidates responded. This report was compiled by Mike Eldred.

1. What is the top change or new priority you’ll pursue as Vermont Attorney General?

2. Please describe and explain your approach to issues regarding the future of Vermont Yankee.

3. There have been several incidents involving the use of Tasers in Vermont. Following the death of Macadam Mason after he had been Tasered by police, some activists called for a moratorium on police use of Tasers. Do you support a moratorium on the use of Tasers? Should there be a statewide policy governing the use of Tasers? What are your views on the use of Tasers by police in Vermont?

Rosemarie Jackowski

Jackowski, of Bennington, is an Air Force veteran, antiwar activist, and advocacy journalist. She is the Liberty Union Party nominee for Vermont Attorney General

1. At the top of the list is the protection of the most vulnerable. Every case of reported abuse of the disabled or elderly must be investigated in a timely manner - and prosecuted if the facts support prosecution. A backlog of hundreds of abuse cases shows a shocking lack of appreciation for the dignity of all human beings. This should never happen again. No excuses. No exceptions.

2. I’ll go back to court with an updated and more effective legal argument.

3. Yes, we need an immediate moratorium on the use of Tasers.

Jack McMullen

McMullen, of Burlington, is a Navy veteran and a graduate of Harvard Business and Law schools. McMullen pursued a career in business, but served as an advisor to Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey and ran for the US Senate from Vermont in 2004.

1. I would make drug-related crime the top priority of the office if elected. Neither of the other two candidates has stressed this area in their campaign appearances. In a statewide effort to develop a standard approach to drug-related crime, I would class criminals engaged in such crime into three groups: 1) violent criminals, drug dealers, repeat offenders, and out-of-state criminals -- to get arrested, convicted, and taken off our streets as quickly as possible, 2) those to be sent to court diversion to meet their victims, make restitution, and have their criminal records expunged -- this group might include youthful offenders committing their first crime involving a victim, and 3) offenders engaged in consuming drugs where no other party is involved -- these might be sent directly to substance abuse treatment bypassing both the courts and jail. Who fits into which category would be a prime issue to resolve for the statewide task force I would convene.

2. The attorney general’s office is not a policy shop -- policy is a job for the Legislature and governor. The issue before the AG now is whether to pursue an appeal of the case the state lost at the trial level in a challenge to a Vermont law that sought, in effect, to shut down Vermont Yankee. The court ruled the issue in the law was safety. Safety is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a federal body, and therefore the state is out of bounds passing a law involving nuclear safety. My assessment is that chances for victory on appeal after Judge Murtha’s considered trial court opinion are slim and it would therefore be best to negotiate the best deal we can with Entergy (better transparency, additional attention to safety concerns, etc.) in exchange for withdrawing the appeal. My judgment is that an appeal would cost $4 to $8 million to pursue (hiring outside counsel and experts), money that would be better spent fixing the damage from Irene or dealing with drug-related crime.

3. I support a statewide standard for law enforcement officers, state and local, requiring them to be trained in Taser use, perhaps with periodic refresher sessions. I do not support a moratorium. The incident referred to resulted from aiming the Taser at Mr. Mason’s chest against a warning given by the manufacturer, a problem that could easily be resolved by better training of all officers empowered to use Tasers.

Bill Sorrell

Sorrell, of Burlington, is the incumbent attorney general and Democratic nominee. Sorrell has served in the position since 1997.

1. There are many ongoing priorities for the office of attorney general. First, we will continue the defense of the Entergy lawsuit against the state.

Second, during the last session the Legislature authorized increased staffing in the criminal arena. As a result of this increased staffing and enhanced priority efforts, we will aggressively continue to investigate and criminally prosecute those Vermonters who download and share identified child pornography.

Finally, in our consumer protection arena, we will increase our outreach educational efforts and enforcement actions against those who violate our consumer protection laws, and those who prey on Vermont consumers and businesses.

2. My office will continue to defend the Vermont Yankee case to ensure that our legislature has a say on the continued operation of the plant. We will also work with the Agency of Natural Resources on the process relating to the renewal of VY’s thermal discharge permit. As requested, we will assist the Department of Public Service regarding the ongoing certificate of public good proceeding currently before the Public Service Board.

3. Tasers are a nonlethal weapon that, when used in appropriate situations by well-trained law enforcement personnel, are an effective weapon for controlling individuals. Tasers have been discharged by police hundreds of times in Vermont, and typically do not result in the unfortunate outcome of Mr. Mason’s case. Consequently, I believe a moratorium, or suspension, on their use might result in more, rather than fewer, injuries and possibly deaths for private citizens and police during the duration of a moratorium.

There should be statewide minimum standards of training for those police authorized to use Tasers. The training standards should be subject to review and revision as more experiences with Tasers occur. Similarly, any department issuing Tasers to its personnel should have written policies, with the input of citizens, on when it is appropriate and when it is not appropriate to employ a Taser.

Ed Stanak

Stanak, of Barre City, is the Progressive Party candidate for attorney general. Stanak is a community organizer and worked for the state of Vermont for 31 years as the District 5 coordinator for Act 250.

1. The office of attorney general is responsible for the active administration of justice in Vermont. The duties of the office as defined by statute would continue to be fully implemented but the economic and political crises of the 21st century require an activist attorney general and this is a priority .

The Stanak administration will pursue economic justice issues such as a criminal investigation of the six major Wall Street banks, all of whom are registered to do business in Vermont, for the deceit and manipulation that took place in 2008 and which caused so much damage to the retirement plans of older Vermonters and ruined the opportunities for a younger generation to successfully enter the job market. Other examples of economic justice issues include taking on unconscionable contract terms imposed by credit and debit card companies. The attorney general should also attempt to negotiate extensions of the terms of student loans during these difficult economic times.

The attorney general must also propose concrete measures to reverse the corrupting effect of large corporations on Vermont democracy and the legislative process. A specific strategy under the Stanak administration will involve seeking a legislative amendment of the existing definition of “person” under Vermont law in order to make a distinction between the political rights of people and corporations. Such legislative action will most likely then result in a court challenge and that will provide the opportunity to reverse over 130 years of case law falsely extending 14th amendment constitutional rights to corporations.

The attorney general must be more than the chief law enforcement officer and litigator for the state. He/she should be an advocate, speaking out on behalf of justice for the 99% in both the Legislature and the broader community.

2. The operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is a danger to the health and economic well-being of Vermonters. The plant must be closed. This has been the position of Progressive attorney general candidate Stanak since 1979 when he wrote a brief (State v. Warshow) to the Vermont Supreme Court on behalf of six Vermonters who sought to shut down the plant.

The current lawsuit regarding enactments by the Vermont Legislature to curtail plant operation is pending before the federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals but has minimal chance of success in ending the operation of the plant because of the factual record in that case and the legal principle of federal pre-emption. Drawing upon his 30 years of experience as an administrator of Vermont’s environmental laws, Stanak believes that the pending application by Entergy Inc. to the Agency of Natural Resources seeking renewal of its permit to discharge hundreds of millions of gallons of heated water into the Connecticut River is the best means to cease operation of the plant. The state has clear jurisdiction over discharges. The attorney general must work closely with the secretary of the agency to ensure a careful and thorough review of the application for the continued discharge. Evidence will demonstrate that the characteristics of this discharge do not comply with Vermont’s water quality standards and other applicable regulatory standards. Appellate litigation that would result from a denial of the discharge permit renewal would then be the means to successfully close the plant.

One additional comment is necessary. Hundreds of workers are employed at the plant and their future economic well-being must be considered in the closure of the plant. To this end, the Stanak administration of the office of attorney general will take steps to increase the plant’s decommissioning funds in order to include adequate resources for the retraining of the displaced workers.

3. The unfortunate incidents involving deaths by Taser justify an immediate moratorium on the use of Tasers. Based on six years of experience as president of the union which represented state police officers, Stanak is fully aware of the dangers and stresses experienced by law enforcement officers particularly when asked to respond to incidents in isolated rural areas and when police backup is not readily available. However, there can be no doubt that Tasers are lethal weapons. Police have many other tools at their disposal such as shields and body armor. And in most incidents, waiting for backup is the prudent option. There must be a statewide policy governing the use of Tasers. Vermont residents cannot be subject to differing Taser use policies adopted by individual municipal or county law enforcement agencies.

The attorney general should file a position with the State Police Advisory Commission and recommend an immediate moratorium. The office of attorney general should then participate actively in the consideration of a statewide policy and, if necessary, propose legislation toward this end. Consideration of objective data and alternative measures will result in a ban on the use of Tasers in Vermont.
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