Governor to name chief justice today
MONTPELIER — Gov. James Douglas today will announce who he wants to head the Vermont Supreme Court.
While the governor and his staff declined to discuss the appointment, Vermont's legal community was abuzz with speculation the governor will elevate former Rutland attorney and current Associate Supreme Court Justice Paul Reiber to head the high court.
"We began hearing that a couple of weeks ago," said Jay Kenlan, one of Reiber's former partners at the Rutlandfirm of Kenlan, Schwiebert & Facey. "I would not be surprised. Paul would make an excellent chief justice."
Douglas appointed Reiber to the five-member high court 14 months ago.
The nominee, if confirmed by the Vermont Senate, will replace former chief justice Jeffrey Amestoy, who retired in August to become a fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The governor will make his formal announcement at a 1 p.m. press conference today in his ceremonial office at the State House.
Douglas this summer said he preferred to nominate a lower-court judge to fill the high court vacancy — a strike against Reiber, who never sat on the bench before being appointed to the Supreme Court — but the governor also said lower-court experience was not essential.
Jason Gibbs, the governor's chief spokesman, would neither confirm nor deny that Reiber was the governor's choice. He also would not comment on whether the nominee will have judicial experience.
"The governor's appointment will be an individual who he believes can best serve the court and the judiciary as the next chief justice," Gibbs said.
Reiber, who is in his mid 50s, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Promoting Reiber to chief justice would continue to leave a vacancy on the Supreme Court, which could still be filled by a lower court judge.
The high-court appointment will be Douglas' second. The first-term governor in September 2003 named Reiber associate justice after James Morse left the bench to become commissioner of the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
Reiber's appointment was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
Colleagues consider Reiber a political moderate. He is a self-described "apolitical person" who was born and raised in Pennsylvania but has practiced law in Vermont since 1976.
"For all the years I've known him, I would not be able to tell you who he voted for in any presidential or gubernatorial election," said Kenlan, who first became legal partners with Reiber in 1986. "I think he would vote his conscience without regard to party."
Douglas appointed Reiber after he rejected the first slate of potential nominees presented by the state's Judicial Nominating Board. The governor can only select a candidate forwarded by the board.
Reiber, who is town meeting moderator for his hometown of Chittenden, did not apply for the job during the board's initial search in 2003. He submitted his name for the second round after friends encouraged him.
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