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Wygmans steps down as county attorney

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DENNIS WIGMANS

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County State’s Attorney Dennis Wygmans will step down May 7 to become one of only two Traffic Safety Resource Attorneys (TSRPs) in Vermont.

Wygmans’ succession plan calls for his second-in-command, Assistant State Attorney Peter Bevere, to lead the office until county voters choose his permanent replacement in the upcoming general election in November.

Bevere has already told the Independent he will run for the job this fall. It’s a job he was just 10 votes short of snatching from Wygmans in 2018. Wygmans then hired Bevere as an SA assistant, and the two became a tight pursuit team.

Bevere ran as a freelancer in 2018 and plans to do the same this fall.

Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott could exercise his legal right to appoint a new Addison County State’s Attorney until the next election. County Democratic committee leaders have said they will ask Scott to take this action, and they are currently collecting the names of potential nominees.

On January 5, 2017, then Governor. Peter Shumlin nominated Wygmans to succeed former Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster, whom Shumlin had hired as a Vermont Superior Court judge.

Wygmans is looking forward to the challenge of being a TSRP.

“It’s interesting for mine, a place where we’re seeing an increase in DUIs, especially via COVID, both locally and statewide,” Wygmans said in a recent phone interview. “Especially with a significant and concerning increase in juvenile DUIs, I hope to help reinvigorate our non-governmental partners – such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving – (to wage) a more aggressive public education campaign.”

In addition to prosecuting some of the state’s most high-profile impaired driving cases, Wygmans and his colleague Stacy Graczyk will compile educational materials, statistics and other resources for state prosecutors to more effectively plead. impaired driving cases.

The new gig will allow Wygmans, a Democrat who resides in Middlebury, to work primarily from home, but he will spend time traveling to various courthouses that require his services.

Wygmans first joined the local state’s attorney’s office in 2013. He worked there for three years as an assistant state’s attorney, prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence cases. In December 2016, Wygmans briefly left Addison County to become an assistant district attorney in Chittenden County, handling various criminal cases. But he returned to Middlebury just a month later to serve as Addison County State’s Attorney.

Wygmans has enjoyed his job as the county’s chief prosecutor, though he admitted the past two pandemic-laden years have been a real challenge. COVID has brought in-person court proceedings to a virtual standstill, meaning most legal interactions take place remotely, via a two-dimensional screen.

TWO YEARS SUSTAINABLE

Because trials are now rare, there is a huge backlog of cases, said Wygmans, who is currently handling about 300. Bevere is handling a similar caseload, while another deputy is carrying more than 100.

As a TSRP, Wygmans’ workload will drop to around 10, allowing for ample investigative time and therefore better conviction rates. And his domain will not be limited to alcohol-related offences; with recreational marijuana becoming legal in Vermont and available at licensed retail stores on October 1, Wygmans will be increasingly called upon to help prosecutors assess impaired driving by cannabis users,

Conversely, staying with the SA office would have meant keeping a slew of cases and no clear timeline as to when they would go to trial.

“That’s part of what drove this decision,” Wygmans said of his career transition. “I know things are going to start to open up, which is great, but it’s been a rough couple of years on the COVID stuff, with the courts closing, reopening, closing again, with no trials. It was an interesting experience, but not a great one for both the prosecution and the defense, as well as for the defendants and the victims.

Wygmans is proud of the contributions he has made to the county state’s attorney’s office during his more than five years on the helm. He specifically cited his role in:

  • Modernization of the parquet. This meant converting to a largely paperless system which, in turn, saved taxpayers considerable money. The silver lining of COVID is that many IT upgrades received good funding and considerable attention – given that legal proceedings had stalled.
  • Creation of a “DLS Diversion Program” through which those convicted of driving with a suspended license were able to obtain a new license more quickly with less onerous fines.

“DLS is really a poor man’s crime,” he said. “It made no sense to fine someone who was unable to pay that fine.”

Wygmans said the diversion program “has been incredibly successful,” allowing DLS offenders to learn an important lesson in a way that helps them avoid further debt (through a hefty fine ) while returning to driving so they can get back to work.

  • Gathering what he called “a terrific staff”.

“Right now we’re fully booked and I’m really confident regardless of the storm ahead, in terms of filling my position and any other vacancies,” Wygmans said. “I feel like I’m leaving at the right time.”

  • Focus on prosecuting offenders whose conduct is “harmful to others”, while not focusing so much on petty crimes.
  • Help ex-offenders clear their criminal records of misdemeanor convictions and, in some cases, non-violent crimes. Wygmans argued that offenders who have long paid for their nonviolent crimes should not continue to lose potential job opportunities by letting those past offenses linger on their criminal records.

“Our office was one of the first (in Vermont) to run a (erasure) clinic … and pursued it quite aggressively as a way to help people,” he said. “One of the things we didn’t anticipate when we set up our criminal justice system is that a case could follow you for decades.”

PETER BEVERE

Wygmans is confident that Bevere could easily step in next month as acting SA, which would then allow the office to post and fill the deputy SA position that Bevere would be leaving.

“Dennis and I have worked well together for over three years now and I look forward to maintaining office continuity and working with our community partners to better serve Addison County,” Bevere said. “It would be an honor to be appointed as a State’s Attorney by Governor Scott, and I trust that my time and work here in Addison County, and my record of over 15 years as a prosecutor, will deserve an appointment to continue this crucial work. As for the fall, I intend to run for state attorney and do so as an independent. I have always believed that the state attorney’s office is not a political office, but rather that the role of the office is to fairly and justly enforce the laws that the legislature provides us. I look forward to serving our community as the next Addison County State’s Attorney.

Dave Silberman, vice chairman of the Addison County Democratic Committee, said his group is committed to gathering a list of potential candidates to submit to Scott.

“Given there are more than nine months remaining in Dennis’ current term (which expires January 31, 2023), we believe leaving the office vacant would be detrimental to public safety and the administration of justice in our county.” , did he declare. “As things stand, there are already unsustainable delays in clearing cases through the criminal justice system, with people facing charges waiting months longer than usual for their day in court. , potentially violating the fundamental constitutional right to a speedy trial. The Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office needs all of its professional staff, and more.

the Independent reached out to Scott’s spokesman Jason Maulucci to get an idea of ​​the governor’s strategy to fill the looming Addison County SA vacancy.

“We haven’t received a resignation letter yet, so we haven’t had any timing discussions,” Maulucci said. “We would probably go through the standard process of requesting names for a nomination, but it’s too early to tell.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]