By Alan Keays, VTDigger
A former attorney for the city of Rutland is taking a second legal avenue to challenge his conviction and prison sentence in a fatal hit-and-run.
Christopher Sullivan, 57, acting as his own attorney, recently filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the civil division of Rutland Superior Court. He was convicted of drunken driving and leaving the scene of a fatal crash after hitting Jane Outslay, 71, of Mendon, in 2013 as she tried to cross Strongs Avenue in downtown Rutland.
In his filing, Sullivan checked off boxes on a form indicating he intends to claim he had ineffective counsel and that his sentence was excessive. Post-conviction relief is a civil process to challenge actions that took place in state criminal courts at the trial level.
Sullivan, days after he was sentenced in August in Rutland Superior Court to four to 10 years in jail, filed a notice appealing his sentence to the Vermont Supreme Court. As a result, he has challenges to his convictions and sentence pending in the state’s highest court and at the civil court trial level in Rutland.
A hearing on the post-conviction relief filing is set for Nov. 17 in Rutland Superior civil court. No hearing has been set for arguments in his appeal before the Vermont Supreme Court.
Assistant Attorney General Ultan Doyle, whose office prosecuted the case, could not immediately be reached Tuesday for comment.
The Sullivan case has been heavily litigated ever since the charges were brought in 2013. Sullivan fled the scene of the crash and didn’t tell police until a day later that he was the driver, according to court records. A jury convicted Sullivan of the charges in 2015.
He appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which earlier this year affirmed the convictions but vacated the sentence. The high court ruled that prior to sentencing, Judge Theresa DiMauro should have allowed Sullivan more time to hire and present expert testimony.
A second sentencing hearing was held in August, and a clinical psychologist testified on Sullivan’s behalf. DiMauro then handed down exactly the same sentence, expressing nearly the exact reasons as she had in imposing the first sentence two years earlier.
The current appeal before the Supreme Court challenges his sentence, since the high court in its earlier decision affirmed his convictions.
The civil relief action also takes aim at his convictions and the actions of attorney Barry Griffith, who represented him at that time. The document Sullivan filed does not lay out specific claims of ineffective assistance by his lawyer.
According to court records, the Vermont prisoners’ rights office has since been assigned to represent Sullivan in the post-conviction relief action. An appeal attorney from the state public defender’s office is representing Sullivan before the Vermont Supreme Court.
Defender General Matthew Valerio, who oversees the prisoners’ rights office, said Tuesday that appeals to the Vermont Supreme Court deal with mistakes of law, while post-conviction relief actions are lawsuits to “remedy other failures along the way.”
Valerio said it does happen that people have an appeal pending before the Vermont Supreme Court as well as a post-conviction relief action filed at the civil court trial level.
“Normally you would wait until all your appeals are exhausted,” Valerio said of filing an action for post-conviction relief, “but I think that probably what he wants to do is get this in front of the court on the issues that arose during trial because they are distinct from the sentencing.”
Sullivan is serving his sentence at the Springfield prison.