By Guy Page
Yesterday, a Vermont District Court jury in St. Albans found former state senator Norm McAllister innocent of the prohibited act of soliciting a woman for prostitution. The decision comes 17 days, nine months and three years after the Vermont Senate formally suspended McAllister “from exercising any of the powers of his office” in connection with his arrest, which involved a woman living at his Franklin County farm.
At 2:57 pm on Jan. 6, 2016, 20 senators voted to suspend McAllister, depriving Franklin County of one of its two senators (both Republicans). The 10 no votes were led by then-Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland). She argued that McAllister had not been found guilty and that suspension was in effect depriving him of his due process.
McAllister lost a re-election bid in 2016. Since his arrest, it’s been a long and winding road through the Vermont court system for McAllister. But here’s the bottom line: he has been cleared of all charges brought against him. The prosecutors did their job, the judge and jury did theirs, and this is the outcome: he’s not guilty of any crime.
Two weeks before the vote, Flory argued that a suspension was playing “judge and jury” with McAllister. Her proposed amendment to establish a Senate committee to take action after a court decision was rejected. The majority of the Vermont Senate was not content in 2016 to do nothing while criminal justice took its course. Majority Leader Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) was quoted by Seven Days as saying at December 2015 committee hearing about the resolution: “When we move through the building, people are helping us, serving us, staffing us – and it’s a huge responsibility. If there’s a question, a substantial question, a felony question, about whether that power has been abused. … I believe, absolutely, the course of action is to suspend that person pending the outcome.”
The full Senate voted January 6 on the following resolution, S.R.8: “Resolved by the Senate: That the Senate hereby suspends Senator Norman H. McAllister from exercising any of the powers of his office as a Member of the Senate until all criminal proceedings currently pending against him have been dismissed.”
The 20-10 vote in favor did not follow strict party lines. Four Republicans (Benning, Degree, Westman, Doyle) voted for suspension, five Democrats (Mazza, White, Nitka, MacDonald, McCormick) voted against. Here is the vote tally, as reported on the Vermont Legislature website:
Ashe of Chittenden District Yea
Ayer of Addison District Yea
Balint of Windham District Yea
Baruth of Chittenden District Yea
Benning of Caledonia District Yea
Bray of Addison District Yea
Campbell of Windsor District Yea
Campion of Bennington District Yea
Collamore of Rutland District Nay
Cummings of Washington District Yea
Degree of Franklin District Yea
Doyle of Washington District Yea
Flory of Rutland District Nay
Kitchel of Caledonia District Yea
Lyons of Chittenden District Yea
MacDonald of Orange District Nay
Mazza of Grand Isle District Nay
McAllister of Franklin District Nay
McCormack of Windsor District Nay
Mullin of Rutland District Nay
Nitka of Windsor District Nay
Pollina of Washington District Yea
Rodgers of Essex-Orleans District Yea
Sears of Bennington District Yea
Sirotkin of Chittenden District Yea
Snelling of Chittenden District Yea
Starr of Essex-Orleans District Nay
Westman of Lamoille District Yea
White of Windham District Nay
Zuckerman of Chittenden District Yea
The episode raises important questions: did the Senate vote too soon when it effectively ended the long public service career of this dairy farmer/citizen legislator? And has it considered what guidance to give future senators the next time a member is arrested for a felony and denies the charge?
See more of Guy Page’s news reports at the Vermont Daily Chronicle.