Earlier this year, James Duff Lyall of Tucson, Arizona, was named the new executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont. He succeeded Allen Gilbert, who had led the organization for 12 years.
Lyall is a Middlebury graduate who grew up in Massachusetts, but has spent much of his professional career in California and Arizona. Much of his work has focused on immigrants' right issues.
Lyall is not the only new arrival at the ACLU in Vermont. He says the staff is expanding to include, for the first time, a policy director.
“This is the first time that we’re going to be able to devote a full-time staff person to working on advancing our policy agenda at the Legislature and elsewhere in the state,” says Lyall.
“I think that, combined with the fact that we now have for the first time two full-time staff attorneys, we have a growing staff," Lyall says. "We’re going to be looking to increasingly expand our work, not just in criminal justice reform but across all of our issue areas.”
Lyall says some aspects of the issues ACLU confronts differ from state to state, but the issues themselves are prevalent everywhere.
“I really think it’s a mistake for anybody to just assume that the problems facing this country are things that happen elsewhere,” Lyall says. “The fact of the matter is that Vermont, like much of the country, has massive racial disparities, from school discipline to police arrest to incarceration rates. Vermont is behind the curve in many measures of … open government and government transparency.”
Lyall says Vermont’s tradition of self-governance, typified by Town Meeting and its citizen Legislature, means residents are generally well-informed and engaged on many issues.
Listen to the full interview from Vermont Edition above.