October, 2008

In Chambers with Vermont’s Supreme Court Justices Denise Johnson & Marilyn Skoglund


Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman on the United States Supreme Court, nominated in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. Here in Vermont, it was a decade later that a woman joined the state’s highest court when Governor Madeleine Kunin appointed Justice Denise Johnson of Shrewsbury in December of 1990, followed by the appointment of Montpelier’s Marilyn Skoglund in 1997 by Governor Howard Dean. Today, Johnson and Skoglund comprise the Vermont Supreme Court with Associate Justices Brian L. Burgess and John Dooley, and Chief Justice Paul L. Reiber.

During their tenure, they have heard cases ranging in nature from the mundane to the heart-wrenching; with some, the attention of the entire nation has been riveted on their decision, such as Baker v. State of Vermont, the landmark ruling on gay marriage in the Green Mountain State.

Justices Johnson and Skoglund allowed Vermont Woman to “approach the bench” for a conversation about their respective careers and a range of other – sometimes surprising –subjects (Justice Skoglund gamely persevered despite a bout with laryngitis). Here are excerpts from our interview.


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Denise Johnson (left) and Marilyn Skoglund

In the Wake of Tragedy, Vermont Considers Overhaul of Sex Offender Laws


In June 2008, 12-year-old Brooke Bennett of Braintree was murdered in Randolph. As of this writing, Michael Jacques, her uncle, has been charged in federal court with her kidnapping, but has not yet stood trial for the offense.

[Editor’s note: According to an October 1 news report from the Rutland Herald, Michael Jacques has now been indicted on additional charges in the Bennett case:
A federal grand jury has indicted the uncle of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett, charging him with drugging, sexually assaulting and smothering her with a plastic bag, prosecutors said Wednesday.
The grand jury in Rutland also handed up "special findings" against Michael Jacques, 42, of Randolph, making him eligible for the death penalty if convicted on the charge of kidnapping with death resulting.
It also indicted him on five child pornography counts, and charged that he coerced another girl, 14, into helping him with the abduction.]

Bennett’s case – especially the oft-cited information that Jacques, 42, had a prior sexual offense conviction when he was 26, for which he was released early – has led to a broad public outcry for an overhaul of Vermont’s sex offender laws.


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Brooke Bennett

Glamour… Glitz… Zingers:
A Poor Way to Cover a Presidential Election


The United Nations is in session in New York City, convened to address critical global issues. The U.S. economy is on the brink of disaster; at press time Congress is on the verge of passing an unimaginable billion dollar bailout to address the economic crisis.


And the media?

The media is in a frenzy, chasing after French First Lady Carla Bruni and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. Bruni, the former model from Italy, is on the September cover of Vanity Fair. Palin, Senator John McCain’s irresponsible choice for running mate, is on the cover of Time Magazine. Bruni is all glitz and glamour.

Palin is all glamour, glitz, and contrived zingers. The difference is Bruni is not running for Vice President of the United States. Much has already been written about Gov. Palin’s scanty education and thin resume.


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Publisher Sue Gillis