Government Structure: 4. Vermont’s Judicial Branch

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Vermont’s judicial system is comprised of a Supreme Court located in the state capital and a Superior Court organized in six divisions and located in Vermont’s county seats.

The Supreme Court of Vermont

The Supreme Court is the sole appellate court in Vermont and the vast majority of its work is hearing cases on appeal as a matter of law. Most states have a layer of appellate courts lying between district courts and the Supreme Court, but not Vermont. The Supreme Court of Vermont has a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices.

The Superior Court of Vermont

Vermont’s Superior Court was consolidated in 2010 into the following six divisions:

1. Civil Division

2. Criminal Division

3. Environmental Division

4. Family Division

5. Judicial Bureau

6. Probate

While most of this is self-explanatory, a few clarifications will be helpful to understand the system.  Vermont regulates development through Act 250.  The Environmental Court hears appeals from Act 250 proceedings.  

The Judicial Bureau is a specialized court to handle small civic violations, like traffic tickets, alcohol and marijuana cases, and free up the rest of the courts for more serious matters.

Judges are assigned to various county courts and divisions. Vermont uniquely has Assistant Judges or “side judges” who are elected and also sit on Civil, Family and Judicial Bureau cases. Side judges are not required to have any legal training.

The Assistant Judges also serve as the chief administrative officers for county court and sheriff offices.  They receive two salaries: one from the state for their judicial role and one from the county for their administrative duties.

Evidently, this unique position of “side judge” dates back to the days when Vermont was an independent republic.  All the lawyers were trained in England and the Vermonters didn’t trust them.

All the other Vermont judges are appointed by the Governor from a list of candidates prepared by the Judicial Nominating Board and subject to Senate approval.  All judges have six-year terms and are subject to a Retention Vote by the full General Assembly at the end of every term.

The Chief Justice makes a salary of $166,129 plus benefits and all other judges make less.

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