Asst. Judge Boardman Is Suspended

Front Page / May. 7, 2009 12:00am EDT

By Supreme Court

Asst. Judge Boardman Is Suspended By Supreme Court

By M.D. Drysdale

Windsor County Assistant Judge William Boardman was suspended for six months last Friday by the Vermont Supreme Court for judicial misconduct.

He will be suspended from both judicial and administrative duties.

The high court sided with the state’s Judicial Conduct Board (JCB), which had ruled last May that Boardman should be suspended for conflict of interest.

The conflict emerged particularly in real estate dealings with a non-profit organization, Emerge Family Advocates, Inc., which he helped found. He continued on the Emerge board during the negotiations for a county-owned building and helped the non-profit purchase the building at a price substantially below market.

Boardman had appealed the JCB’s ruling and the six-month suspension, which was the most severe penalty that the JCB had issued in recent memory. Boardman, who was first elected a Windsor County assistant (side) judge in 1991, argued that there was no conflict of interest.

Friday, the Supreme Court emphatically disagreed, supporting both the finding of conflict of interest and the penalty decreed by the JCB.

The court even added one further penalty—that when Boardman returns to the court, he must disqualify himself indefinitely from any case that involves a client of Emerge, an agency that assists children in divorce cases.

“The conflict of interest … could not have been clearer,” the court wrote in its decision.

“Public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary … was plainly tested, if not indeed significantly degraded by respondent’s (Boardman’s) actions in this case,” the court wrote.

The Supreme Court also dismissed arguments by the Vermont Association of County Judges, which had filed an amicus curia brief, suggesting that the suspension should not include the assistant judge’s administrative duties. The court said it has “plenary authority … to exercise disciplinary control over all functions of assistant judges, administrative, adjudicative, and otherwise.”

The court did agree with Boardman in rejecting a second count of judicial misconduct that the JCB had brought. This one involved a notice Boardman sent to the Vermont Standard newspaper, complaining that his campaign sign had been stolen by his opponent.

Boardman quickly discovered that the property owner had taken down the sign herself, but he never took steps to notify the newspaper that he had been wrong in his first notice to them.

Te Supreme Court noted that while a correction by Boardman at the time would have been “appropriate,” his neglecting to do so did not rise to the level of judicial misconduct.

Sale of Property

In the case of Emerge, however, the court said the misconduct was clear.

The conflict of interest was most apparent in the sale of a county building—the former sheriff’s office—to Emerge for what eventually amounted to $72,000. At the same time, the town of Hartford was trying to buy the building for $160,000 in cash, but received no positive response from Boardman in his position as county administrator.

“There is no question that respondent’s (Boardman’s) duties of undivided loyalty, impartiality, and independence were compromised in this matter, to the detriment of his office and the public interest,” the court said. Boardman’s actions violated four separate canons of judicial ethics, the Supreme Court ruled.

Boardman also challenged the severity of the penalty, but the court upheld it—and increased it.

“In our view, nothing less than the recommended sanction of a six-month suspension from all assistant-judge duties … would be adequate to restore public confidence in the integrity, impartiality and independence of the judiciary,” the court wrote.

The suspension is effective immediately, but the six-month clock doesn’t start until Boardman resigns from the Emerge board of directors.

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