Voters in the Northeast Kingdom will have some clear choices in the upcoming primary election for state’s attorney. In Orleans County, the incumbent faces three challengers, and two of them have served as his deputies. In Essex County, the race pits a veteran of state politics against a juvenile defense attorney who wants to find alternatives to litigation.
The Orleans County race features four contenders, and it’s heating up. Alan Franklin has been chief prosecutor there for almost three and a half years, yet he has never run for office. Governor Shumlin appointed him to the job when Franklin’s predecessor, Keith Flynn, was named public safety commissioner.
In the August 26 primary, Franklin faces Jennifer Barrett. She went to work for Franklin right out of law school but then left Orleans County for the deputy state's attorney’s job in Bennington County. Franklin says he is the more experienced choice, because he has learned after many years how to screen cases for the best results.
“And sometimes it’s not prosecuting, sometimes it’s taking a plea agreement, sometimes going to trial. Trials don’t solve everything but if you can get a guilty plea sometimes that’s a measure of responsibility you don’t even always get with a trial,” Franklin says.
But at a lively candidates’ forum, Barrett criticized Franklin for failing to do his job. She says Orleans County is seeing a rise in domestic violence and other crimes, but accuses Franklin and his deputy, James Lillicrap, of prosecuting only the most egregious cases, and failing to bring others to justice.
“And so if you wait and you let them get away with retail theft after retail theft, you’re not addressing the underlying issues at the first stage. Instead you are waiting until the addiction is worse and you’re waiting until a more serious crime, like a burglary, has been committed before you are even trying to intervene to either rehabilitate or punish the defendant. So that’s something that would distinguish me from how they are doing things in the office now,” Barrett says.
She says her office in Bennington prosecuted 27 cases to Franklin’s 14, over the past four years — one reason, she says, that she has been endorsed by the Vermont Troopers’ Association.
If she wins the primary, she would face the deputy state’s attorney in the Orleans office, James Lillicrap, who is running against his own boss. Independent Ben Luna will also be on the ballot.
Franklin admits it’s an unusual situation.
“I don’t know anyone who’s been faced with it. In fact I don’t have a political background, never run for office before,” he says.
In contrast, next door in Essex County, incumbent Vince Illuzzi, is a campaign trail veteran. He served over 30 years as a state senator and almost 16 years as a prosecutor. His opponent, Julianne Woolard, is a juvenile defense attorney. She says Illuzzi doesn’t try hard enough to find alternatives to prosecution and incarceration of young offenders.
“I look at it not as prosecuting juveniles, necessarily, but as a way of taking them, you know, when they’re at a fork in the road. They’ve committed, or are alleged to have committed, this infraction and you can either prosecute and charge them to the fullest or you can use community resources and restorative justice approaches and you can sort of shape the case,” Woolard says.
Illuzzi disputes her claim that he does not take advantage of alternative justice when merited.
“I think you have that tool available when it’s appropriate but it’s usually not just the decision of the prosecutor but also the others in the criminal justice system, the diversion staff, the individuals who are victims of crimes, police officers. There’s just a wide range of individuals who provide input and ultimately the decision is made by the state’s attorney or deputy state’s attorney. And I think what we’ve seen by way of referrals to alternative programs comports with what you see with other counties around the state,” Illuzzi says.
Whoever wins the primary in the Essex County state’s attorney race is likely to keep or take the office, since no Democrats have mounted a challenge.