On November 2, 2022

Three run for position of Windsor County assistant judge

Three are seeking two positions as assistant judge for Windsor County. Incumbent Michael Ricci, a 69-year-old Independent, is against Democrats Alison Johannensen and former assistant judge David Singer of Hartland.

The position is unique. Each of the state’s 14 counties has two assistant judges — a tradition that dates back to the 1700s. Assistant judges sit on either side of the presiding judge in civil and family court. The presiding judge has say in matters of law, while the assistant judges, hear matters of fact.

The judges hear cases such as relief from abuse, divorce, parental rights, as well as stalking and property disputes. Assistant judges may also become certified, by the judiciary, after one year in the position to hear cases of uncontested divorce without the presiding judge.

Q&A with incumbent Michael Ricci, Independent

Ricci, who initially ran as a Democrat, switched to the Independent side after losing the primary election in August. He was appointed to the position in 2021 by Gov. Phil Scott. He has extensive volunteer experience that includes serving as a justice of the peace, a chairperson of the Woodstock Board of Trustees, a member of Dartmouth Hillel board of directors, advisor to Tucker Foundation Fellows and the Dartmouth Environmental Conservation Organization, president of the Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce board as well as a community volunteer for the library, youth sports, and school district. He also teaches and coaches youth sports.

Mountain Times: Why are you running for assistant judge?

Michael Ricci: My decision to continue in the role is based upon my dedication to the work and encouragement received from judiciary colleagues and community members. Current members of the judiciary are ethically prohibited from sharing their opinions on the election publicly but have been overwhelmingly supportive of my bid for a second term. The county would be best served by considering the importance of continuity and most specifically current experience, as the role has changed significantly over the past eight years. Our presiding judges are caring and helpful, but it is difficult to imagine how two new judges will be able to serve our county as well as they could working with an assistant judge with current knowledge of the role and new technology used to support the judicial process.

The judiciary requires assistant judges to hear cases in family court for at least one year before taking the required training to preside alone in uncontested divorces. I now meet the requirement of having heard cases for more than 1 year, have taken the necessary coursework and will be able to hear these cases in 2023. If we elect two new assistant judges, it may be necessary for cases to be returned to the regular family court calendar, resulting in a further backlog of cases for the presiding judges to manage into 2024. I am gratified to know that I am making a difference, not only by my own account but, all reviews of my work have been excellent. I ask our voters to provide me the opportunity to continue to serve.

MT: What do you think some of the biggest issues facing the court system are?

MC: The decisions that we make have significant influence on the lives of those who are dependent upon the court hearing their cases fairly and completely. I listen to the evidence presented in each case with knowledge of the community that we serve.

The majority of the people who come before the court have just experienced some of the most difficult times of their lives. Talking about these difficulties is made more taxing in a new and unfamiliar courtroom setting. The most difficult issues I anticipate facing involves establishing a setting where hearing participants are comfortable and understand the hearing process. Many participants are unfamiliar with the hearing process and may not be represented by an attorney. Our challenge is providing a clear understanding of the process so that participants are better able to present their case in a full and accurate manner. If participants know how the hearing process works and what to expect, they are more comfortable and the results of our hearings are more complete, fair and accurate.

There are other issues in the courtroom. The assistant judge’s contribution to the decision-making process is to be an active participant in determining matters of fact, while the presiding superior judge then applies those facts to matters of law. I listen to testimony with an unbiased approach to seek the truth, with careful consideration of the individuals involved and the context of the situation. Each of us (two side judges and presiding judge) bring our unique experiences into the process. Three people listening to the same witness pick up on different aspects of their testimony. Getting three perspectives often brings us to a better outcome. I believe that this system provides the best and most fair decisions for those people appearing before the court. Reliance on technology can be an issue for individuals in hearings.

Over the past year, the work of the judiciary has been converted from one reliant upon paper files for each hearing to one that requires mastery of a variety of electronic legal systems. My professional technology training and experience at the Library and at Dartmouth have prepared me well for becoming proficient with these systems that many in the judiciary find difficult and complicated. This poses issues for judiciary staff and for citizens trying to navigate the system.  Over the past year, the work of the judiciary has been converted from one reliant upon paper files for each hearing to one that requires mastery of a variety of electronic legal systems. My technology training and experience at the Library and at Dartmouth have prepared me well for becoming proficient with these systems that many in the judiciary find difficult and complicated.

In my work as director of community relations and technology services with Norman Williams Public Library, I serve in a senior library management position with overall responsibility for community outreach, stewardship of the library’s historic building, budgeting, financial reporting, and IT functions including hardware, software, staff and patron training, internal and external communications, web site and digital literacy activities. This training enables me to assist others in using our electronic systems. I am honored to serve our county as one of your assistant judges and thank the many members of our community who have expressed their support for my continuation in the position. I ask for your vote and look forward to serving our community for another term as assistant judge.

Q&A with Alison Johannensen, Democrat

Johannensen, 48, has 26 years of experience in the legal field. She has also been a board member of Pentangle Arts Council, the Woodstock Nursery School and the Taftsville Cemetery, where she is the current president. Her community volunteer work includes directing youth theatre, grant writing for Change the World Kids and Woodstock Elementary School, Zack’s Place, Covered Bridges Half Marathon, Vermont Overland, WES, Wassail Holiday House Tour, Student Rescue Project, JAG Productions and others.

Mountain Times: Why are you running for assistant judge?

Alison Johannensen: I was contacted by members of the community about running for assistant judge.  As I learned more about the position, I felt that my professional and community experience, made me well suited for the job. I have always believed in giving back to the community in the 16-plus years I have lived in Taftsville and serving as Assistant Judge will continue that service.

MT: What do you think some of the biggest issues facing the court system are?

AJ: I believe one big issue is the backlog of cases.  Cases were backlogged prior to the pandemic and of course made worse during court closures. With additional training, assistant judges may preside over uncontested divorces as well as sitting as hearing officers where traffic violations are heard.  I plan to engage in this training so that I could assist in moving these cases forward.

Another issue is the county budget, for which the assistant judges are responsible.  We need to be responsive to the pressures on taxpayers in budgeting, making good use of our existing buildings and trying to keep costs low.

Q&A with David Singer, Democrat

David Singer, 83, served as assistant judge from 2004-2012. During which time, he was the only judge in the county to pass a 17-week course at Vermont Law School to allow him to reside in civil cases. Singer has 20 years of experience as a police officer in Woodstock. He taught a domestic violence course at Vermont Police Academy, he was part of the Woodstock child sex abuse task force and part of the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations, which handled violence against children. Singer also recently taught a police community relations program at OSHER. As assistant judge, Singer was part or spearheading a $2.5 million renovation of the courthouse in Woodstock, to bring the building up to code with a new elevator addition to the back of the building and other enhancements.

Mountain Times: Why are you running for assistant judge?

David Singer: I believe my eight years as an assistant judge would be valuable. I served both the county and the state in difficult times and I’d like to reestablish the relationship between the county and the Select Boards that I worked hard to serve my first two terms in office.

MT: What do you think some of the biggest issues facing the court system are?

DS: Budget is always a problem. There are 22 towns in Windsor County. What I did before the end of my term, particularly after Tropical Storm Irene, I went around to all 22 towns in Windsor County. Continuing those relationships with the leaders of local towns is important.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Yale student wrote her thesis on Vermont’s school mergers, found they don’t save much

June 12, 2024
By Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger While studying economics and education at Yale University, Grace Miller found a surprise topic on the agenda: Vermont’s one-of-a-kind school funding formula.  The 22-year-old from Newport and her classmates learned about the Brigham decision, a 1997 Vermont Supreme Court case that found the state’s education finance system was unconstitutional.  In response to the case, the…

Killington road work extends into Saturday morning

June 12, 2024
Drilling and blasting will continue this week at the intersection of Route 4 and Killington Road in Killington. A detour remains in place via West Hill Road.  As the project approaches the scheduled end date of July 8, work to haul out rock will occur on Saturdays till about noon time going forward, Markowski Excavating,…

Hartland board to propose new vendors’ ordinance

June 12, 2024
By Curt Peterson The Hartland Select Board refined a proposed new Vendors’ Ordinance to replace the original that’s been in effect since 1996. According to Town Manager John Broker-Campbell, “There are minor changes which will hopefully help to clear up any confusion or ambiguity on the applicability of the ordinance.”   The Select Board will next…

Building a stronger Killington-Rutland community:Essential nonprofits tackle tough issues

June 12, 2024
Vermont’s vibrant spirit thrives on a network of over 7,000 nonprofits; some 1,500 of them in the Killington-Rutland region alone. Considering that number, it’s not surprising that some of these organizations prompt the question: “Why does that nonprofit exist?” Yet, the ones that tackle tough issues and enrich lives spark admiring comments, like “Imagine how…