Tree Lighting Ceremony
Join Governor Phil Scott as he lights the state’s official holiday tree in front of the State House steps, with a festive regional choral ensemble. 4:30-5 p.m. Vermont State House, 115 State Street, Montpelier, email@example.com, 802-828-0749.
“People don’t want to incur the costs that would be needed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, such as driving an all-electric car, forgoing the airplane travel trip, or becoming a vegan ...”
In the news
A bomb threat proves to be a false alarm in Montpelier, plus other news from around Vermont. A2
Water Street in Northfield will be a lot drier after the completion of a five-year storm water mitigation project to reduce flooding in the area. A3
The owner of the Devil’s Bowl racetrack faces charges after threatening three juveniles at gunpoint over the weekend. A3
BARRE — The second co-owner of the Sundara Day Spa has admitted to intentionally setting the business on fire exactly one year after the blaze.
Kristopher Kirby, 48, of East Montpelier, pleaded guilty Monday in Washington County criminal court to a felony count of first-degree arson. Kirby has agreed to a sentence of two to 10 years, all suspended except for 18 months to serve. The state agreed to dismiss four misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, per the plea agreement.
His wife Lesilee Kirby, 49, also of East Montpelier, pleaded guilty in September to a felony count of first-degree arson and a misdemeanor count of violating conditions of release. She agreed to a sentence of two to seven years, all suspended except for nine months, six of which will be served on home confinement. The state agreed to home confinement for part of her sentence because of her health issues.
The Kirbys are set to be sentenced on Jan. 2. It’s unclear if the victims in the case will give a statement on that date. Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said the victims have given statements to the court as part of the pre-sentence investigation the Department of Corrections has conducted for Lesilee Kirby’s case.
Judge Mary Morrissey told Kristopher Kirby he should expect to start his prison sentence Jan. 2.
In an affidavit, Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Todd Ambroz said fire crews responded to the business on Route 302 on Dec. 2, 2018. Ambroz said a firefighter got inside the business and saw flames coming from the area where the cash register is located. The firefighter went down a hall and found more flames inside a room.
Ambroz said once most of the fire was put out, the firefighter saw a partially burned gasoline container and could smell an overwhelming scent of gas. He said a family of four lived in an apartment above the business, including a 7-year-old child and a 2-year-old child.
Ambroz said while investigating the scene he saw what appeared to be a burned trail of gas leading from the cash register, down the hallway and to the massage room where the gas can was located.
Ambroz then spoke with someone who lived above the business who reported the family was in the apartment when they heard what sounded like an explosion and the building shook. The man told Ambroz he went downstairs to see what was going on and saw smoke in the stairwell. He told Ambroz he saw the flames from the fire and then called 911.
Ambroz said police obtained surveillance footage from Twin City Family Fun Center, which is next door to the day spa. He said the footage showed a man leaving from a side door at the business with the fire already going. The footage then shows the man going behind the business and Ambroz said police found footprints in the snow behind the building. He said the footprints stopped at the edge of the Price Chopper parking lot, which is about a quarter of a mile from the business.
Ambroz said the Kirbys own a Honda Ridgeline, according to records from the Department of Motor Vehicles. He said surveillance footage from the supermarket showed a male in a Honda Ridgeline drive into the parking lot at about 5:45 p.m. He then walked towards the day spa and came back to the parking lot at about 7 p.m., according to the affidavit.
Ambroz said police spoke to Lesilee Kirby and she reported the business had not been doing well and she had suggested filing for bankruptcy. She told police her husband didn’t want to file, and a few weeks back they were joking about burning the place down, but the jokes started to become more serious.
Lesilee Kirby told police she told her husband what to do so that he couldn’t get caught for starting the fire, but she didn’t think he would actually go through with it. She said her husband didn’t think there was anyone in the apartment upstairs when he set the fire.
For the violation of conditions of release, police said Lesilee Kirby violated her curfew by going to the Price Chopper in Berlin in January.
NEW YORK — At the end of another long day trying to sign up new clients accusing the Roman Catholic Church of sexual abuse, lawyer Adam Slater gazes out the window of his high-rise Manhattan office at one of the great symbols of the church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“I wonder how much that’s worth?” he muses.
Across the country, attorneys like Slater are scrambling to file a new wave of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy, thanks to rules enacted in 15 states that extend or suspend the statute of limitations to allow claims stretching back decades. Associated Press reporting found the deluge of suits could surpass anything the nation’s clergy sexual abuse crisis has seen before, with potentially more than 5,000 new cases and payouts topping $4 billion.
It’s a financial reckoning playing out in such populous Catholic strongholds as New York, California and New Jersey, among the eight states that go the furthest with “lookback windows” that allow sex abuse claims no matter how old. Never before have so many states acted in near-unison to lift the restrictions that once shut people out if they didn’t bring claims of childhood sex abuse by a certain age, often their early 20s.
That has lawyers fighting for clients with TV ads and billboards asking, “Were you abused by the church?” And Catholic dioceses, while worrying about the difficulty of defending such old claims, are considering bankruptcy, victim compensation funds and even tapping valuable real estate to stay afloat.
“It’s like a whole new beginning for me,” said 71-year-old Nancy Holling-Lonnecker of San Diego, who plans to take advantage of an upcoming three-year window for such suits in California. Her claim dates back to the 1950s, when she says a priest repeatedly raped her in a confession booth beginning when she was 7 years old.
“The survivors coming forward now have been holding on to this horrific experience all of their lives,” she said. “They bottled up those emotions all of these years because there was no place to take it.”
Now there is.
AP interviews with more than a dozen lawyers and clergy abuse watchdog groups offered a wide range of estimates but many said they expected at least 5,000 new cases against the church in New York, New Jersey and California alone, resulting in potential payouts that could surpass the $4 billion paid out since the clergy sex abuse first came to light in the 1980s.
Lawyers acknowledged the difficulty of predicting what will happen but several believed payouts could exceed the $350,000 national average per child sex abuse case since 2003. At the upper end, a key benchmark is the average $1.3 million the church paid per case the last time California opened a one-year window to suits in 2003. That offers a range of total payouts in the three big Catholic states alone from $1.8 billion to as much as $6 billion.
Some lawyers believe payouts could be heavily influenced by the recent reawakening over sexual abuse fueled by the #MeToo movement, the public shaming of accused celebrities and the explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report last year that found 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children in that state over seven decades. Since then, attorneys general in nearly 20 states have launched investigations of their own.
“The general public is more disgusted than ever with the clergy sex abuse and the cover-up, and that will be reflected in jury verdicts,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who was at the center of numerous lawsuits against the church in that city and was portrayed in the movie “Spotlight.”
Said Los Angeles lawyer Paul Mones, who has won tens of millions in sex abuse cases against the church going back to the 1980s: “The zeitgeist is completely unfavorable to the Catholic Church.”
For Mones, the size of lawsuit payouts under the new laws could hinge on whether most plaintiffs decide to settle their cases with dioceses or take their chances with a trial.
“The X-factor here is whether there will be trials,” he said. “If anyone starts trying these cases, the numbers could become astronomical.”
Since the 15 states enacted their laws at different times over the past two years, the onslaught of lawsuits is coming in waves.
This summer, when New York state opened its one-year window allowing sexual abuse suits with no statute of limitations, more than 400 cases against the church and other institutions were filed on the first day alone. That number is now up to more than 1,000, with most targeting the church.
New Jersey’s two-year window opens this week and California’s three-year window begins in the new year, with a provision that allows plaintiffs to collect triple damages if a cover-up can be shown. Arizona, Montana and Vermont opened ones earlier this year. Even one of the biggest holdouts, Pennsylvania, is moving closer to a window after legislators voted last month to consider amending its constitution to make it easier to pass one.
Already, longtime clergy abuse lawyer Michael Pfau in Seattle says he’s signed up about 800 clients in New York, New Jersey and California. Boston’s Garabedian says he expects to file 225 in New York, plus at least 200 in a half-dozen other states. Another veteran abuse litigator, James Marsh, says he’s collected more than 200 clients in New York alone.
“A trickle becomes a stream becomes a flood,” Marsh said. “We’re sort of at the flood stage right now.”
Church leaders who lobbied statehouses for years against loosening statute-of-limitations laws say this is exactly the kind of feeding frenzy they were worried about. And some have bemoaned the difficulty of trying to counter accusations of abuse that happened so long ago that most witnesses have scattered and many of the accused priests are long dead.
“Dead people can’t defend themselves,” said Mark Chopko, former general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “There is also no one there to be interviewed. If a diocese gets a claim that Father Smith abused somebody in 1947, and there is nothing in Father Smith’s file and there is no one to ask whether there is merit or not, the diocese is stuck.”
Slater’s Manhattan offices may have views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, spiritual home of New York City’s Catholic archdiocese, but ground zero for his church abuse lawsuit operation is a call center, of sorts, about an hour’s drive away in suburban Long Island, in an office building overlooking a parking lot.
There, headset-wearing paralegals in a dozen cubicles answer calls in response to ads on talk radio and cable TV news channels pleading: “If you were sexually abused by a member of the clergy, even if it happened decades ago ... you may be entitled to financial compensation.”
That pitch spoke to 57-year-old Ramon Mercado, who had long kept silent about the abuse he suffered in the 1970s, in part because he didn’t want to upset his devout Catholic mother. Since her recent death, he’s ready to talk about the New York City priest who invited him into his Plymouth sedan to warm up on a cold day and ended up molesting him hundreds of times over the next three years.
“I was sitting in my living room and someone came on TV, ‘If you’ve been molested, act now,’” Mercado said. “After so many years, I said, ‘Why not?’”
When such calls come in, the paralegals are trained to press for details but to do so gently.
“What age would you say you were?”
“Ten or 11? OK. Would you remember the face if you saw it?”
“He would take you out of your bed? What did he say when he came to get you?”
“Do you want to take a break? Are you OK? Are you sure?”
The next step is to get a lawyer on the line to see if it’s a case they can take to court. Slater says that out of the more than 3,000 calls his firm has taken leading up to and since the opening of New York’s one-year window, it has signed up nearly 300 clients, and expects another 200 by the middle of next year.
One recent day, lawyers talked to at least a half-dozen potential plaintiffs by lunchtime, with one saying she was raped at a first communion party and another saying a priest sodomized him after he was told to pull down his pants so his temperature could be taken.
In a windowless break room over pizza, the lawyers recounted some of the other horrific claims they’ve heard in just the past few months: A young girl penetrated by a finger, then a fist; a boy raped by three priests at the same time; an altar boy told to perform oral sex and then swallow because it would “absolve him of his sins.”
One plaintiff still smells the alcohol on the priest’s breath decades later. Another says he can still hear the priest approaching his classroom as he came to get him, the squeak of shoes in the school hallway.
One man called with his story and later killed himself. A terminally-ill woman called from a hospice care center — “I’ve been holding this in my whole life.”
Many of the accusations involve those already identified by dioceses as “credibly accused” — there are 5,173 priests, lay persons and other clergy member that meet that standard, according to a recent AP tally. Those are the easy cases.
But many others are like Mercado’s, involving priests never accused publicly before, some long dead. And so that turns lawyers into cold-case investigators, calling retired Catholic school teachers and retired rectory staff, combing through yearbooks and, in Mercado’s case, tracking down missionary workers who went on the priest’s overseas trips.
“This type of case isn’t for every law firm. It’s not a hit-in-the-rear car accident,” Slater said. “There is work to be done.”
And money to be made. For his fee, Slater said he plans to ask for a full third of any awards his clients collect and he’s been spending in anticipation, hiring a half-dozen new paralegals, opening an office in New Jersey and breaking a wall in Long Island to make more room.
One of the lawyers eating pizza, Steven Alter, pushed back when asked if the people coming forward are just in it for the money.
“It’s not a cash grab,” he said. “They want to have a voice. They want to help other people and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“I haven’t had one person ask me about the money yet.”
This is the day the Catholic Church has long feared.
The church spent millions of dollars lobbying statehouses for decades, arguing it would be swamped with lawsuits if time limits on suing were lifted. That battle now lost, it is girding for Round Two, by turning to compensation funds and bankruptcy.
Compensation funds offer payment to victims if they agree not take their claims to court. They offer a faster, easier way to some justice, and cash, but the settlements are typically a fraction of what victims can get in trials. And critics say the church is just using them to avoid both a bigger financial hit and full transparency.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan set up the first fund in 2016, pitching it as a way to compensate victims without walloping the church and forcing it to cut programs. It has since paid more than $67 million to 338 alleged victims, an average $200,000 each.
The idea has caught on in other states. All five dioceses in New Jersey and three in Colorado opened one, as did seven dioceses in Pennsylvania and six in California, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the U.S.
Such funds, Dolan said in a newspaper op-ed piece last year, “prevent the real possibility — as has happened elsewhere — of bankrupting both public and private organizations, including churches, that provide essential services in education, charity and health care.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League and a longtime critic of the new statute-of-limitations laws, said their effect — if not their intent — “is to disable the church.”
“When a diocese goes bankrupt, everyone gets hurt,” he said.
But bankruptcy has become an increasingly more common option. Less than a month after New York’s one-year lookback window took effect, the upstate Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy, the 20th diocese or religious order in the country to do so, listing claims from alleged abuse survivors and other creditors as much as $500 million. Assets to pay that are estimated at no more than one-fifth that amount.
The Diocese of Buffalo may be next. It has begun paying victims of the 100 priests it considers “credibly accused” of abuse, tapping proceeds from the sale of a lavish $1.5 million mansion that once housed its bishop who is facing pressure to resign.
When a diocese files for bankruptcy, lawsuits by alleged abuse survivors are suspended and payments to them and others owed money — contractors, suppliers, banks, bondholders — are frozen while a federal judge decides how much to pay everyone and still leave enough for the diocese to continue to operate. It’s orderly and victims avoid costly and lengthy court cases, but they often get less than they would if they were successful in a trial.
A recent Penn State study of 16 dioceses and other religious organizations that had filed for bankruptcy protection by September 2018 found that victims received an average settlement of $288,168.
Bankruptcy can also leave abuse survivors with a sense of justice denied because the church never has to face discovery by plaintiff lawyers and forced to hand over documents, possibly implicating higherups who hid the abuse.
For many of his clients, Slater said, the fight in court is crucial because they want to expose the culture behind the crime, not just out a single priest.
“They want to see how the church allowed them to be abused, how they ruined their lives. The church is solely in possession of the information and there is no other way to get it,” he said. “It’s a different process in bankruptcy — you don’t get discovery and you don’t get it in compensation programs. The truth never comes to light.”
Other church tactics in the past few months could be a harbinger for the future.
In July, the Archdiocese of New York sued 31 of its insurers, fearing they would balk at paying all the new alleged victims.
And just last month, church officials on nearby Long Island sought to throw out New York’s new statutes of limitations law in sex abuse cases, arguing it violates the due process clause of the state constitution. The Diocese of Rockville Centre contends time limits to file suits can only be extended in “exceptional circumstances,” such as when plaintiffs are unable to file because they are abroad in a war zone.
Another pair of long shot cases are being closely watched because of the obvious financial implications. Five men who claim they were sexually abused by priests when they were minors filed suit in Minnesota earlier this year contending some of the responsibility rests with the world headquarters of the church — the Vatican. Then came another abuse suit last month in Buffalo accusing the Vatican of racketeering.
The Vatican is a sovereign state widely seen as off limits to abuse victims, but some lawyers say it’s time, especially now that U.S. dioceses are under attack, that it begins tapping its vast wealth.
Raymond P. Boucher, a veteran Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney, contends the Vatican’s legendary riches include stashes of art in vaults that could not possibly be exhausted “and still pay every single claim that anybody could bring in the United States.”
“They have them just in the vaults. They don’t even have to take anything off the walls.”
KILLINGTON — Mikaela Shiffrin emerged from the sun, which sat directly atop Superstar.
The narrative coming into the FIS Women’s World Cup was centered on the 24-year-old American skier. Sweeping Killington would put her in second place for the most lifetime victories at the tournament and bring her that much closer to overtaking recordholder Lindsey Vonn.
The top female skiers in the world gathered in Killington for the fourth year in a row, competing in front of a crowd that was expected to total 40,000 in the course of the weekend. In an interview between races, Gov. Phil Scott called it the largest sporting event in the state and invited visitors from outside Vermont to “come back again.”
After two days of competition, Shiffrin ended the weekend tied for the second-most wins all-time, after taking gold in Sunday’s slalom event, which marked her 62nd World Cup win.
Saturday was the giant slalom, and Shiffrin was the third racer in the first run of the day, easily finishing faster than the two who went before her — German Viktoria Rebensburg and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener.
Her lead didn’t last, though. Tessa Worley of France, who won the GS in the World Cup’s first year at Killington, claimed fist place immediately after Shiffrin’s first run. Then she was displaced by Italian Marta Bassino after which Slovakian Petra Vlhova took second place and pushed Shiffrin down to fourth.
Before the first run was over, Shiffrin fell to fifth as Michelle Gisin, another Swiss racer, sped into third.
Alice Robinson, a 17-year-old up-and-comer from New Zealand, had been pegged as the big challenger to Shiffrin’s dominance after beating the American at a season-opening GS race in Austria. It was a feat the teenager wasn’t destined to repeat in Killington — she spun out and crashed hard, missing the cut-off for the second run.
The morning set of races ended with Shiffrin in fifth, separated from first by less than half a second. The 31 racers who qualified for the second run would return in the afternoon, going in the opposite order of their morning finishes.
Bitter cold didn’t keep the crowd away — the din of cowbells in the grandstand was nearly constant and shot up in volume when a racer reached the bottom.
“I love Killington, especially for the crowd,” Bassino said later in the day. “When I was there and all were screaming — it’s really emotional.”
Temperatures did perhaps make the noontime dance party led by DJ Logic relatively low-key by the standards of such events. A knot of well-bundled revelers pogoed in front of the stage. Most of the crowd was moving among the vender booths, where caterers selling $5 tacos and $15 personal pizzas were wedged in among various skiing companies.
Shriffin went late in the second run, starting strong but losing speed toward the bottom of the course — a problem among many of the racers — and finished behind then-leader Federica Brignone.
The American would go on to handily win the slalom competition on Sunday. She won by more than two seconds — the widest margin in a women’s slalom in three years, making it the fourth year in a row she has dominated that race in Killington. This tied her for second-most wins with Annamarie Moser-Proll, but overtaking the retired Austrian would have to wait for another day.
Ultimately Bassino held onto her early lead in the GS to score her first World Cup win Saturday, accepting the first-place trophy from Gov. Scott. Her countrywoman Brignone took second while Shiffrin, who apologized in a post-race interview that she “wasn’t just a little bit faster,” came in third.
“I felt like I was pushing a little too hard in the wrong way in the first,” she said, noting that her edges were cutting through the surface. “I tried to be aggressive and smooth in the second one and it worked.”
All three of Saturday’s top finishers said the course was well-prepared.
“It’s a slope where there’s no flat and there’s no really steep parts,” Brignone said. “You have to always push. … It’s changing and you have to adapt yourself during the run.”
The course had been shortened from what was originally planned due to high winds at the top.
“There’s a lot of speed in this hill,” Shiffrin said. “When it’s short like that you have to be fast, clean, no mistakes. It’s a little more challenging than you originally think, but that’s what makes it fun.”
The area warmed up a little through the day but temperatures were still in the mid-20s by the end of the second run. Far more of the crowd was moving toward the parking lot than toward the stage to see Grace Potter perform.
Shiffrin said she has learned to deal with nerves as a competitor, and traced her progress in that ability through each of the World Cups at Killington, which has hosted the event since 2016.
“That first year, I did feel a lot of pressure,” she said. “It was pretty miserable.”
She said that during the race, a random fan in the crowd sent her a message on Instagram, saying they were just happy to have the skiers here and to be able to see the races.
“It was a really meaningful thing to hear or to read at that time,” she said.
Shiffrin said that each year, she has felt a little better.
“By this time, I’ve realized that people want to see an American on top, but nobody really cares,” she said. “When I don’t win, I’m like, wow — people have moved on from that really quick. Maybe I should, too. That mindset has helped me enjoy this more. … All in all, it’s still a pretty good day.”
MONTPELIER — Green Mountain Transit started bus service out of the Montpelier Transit Center on Monday — but it will be a while before passengers can wait for buses in the transit center’s warm waiting room.
Passengers shivered outside while the climate-controlled waiting room remained dark and empty. GMT officials said they will install ADA-compliant buttons or “paddles” that would allow people with disabilities to enter the waiting room, as well as other transit passengers, before the building can open.
The launch of the transit center follows an official ribbon-cutting at the site in October, which includes 30 new, affordable apartments above the transit center, a project of Downstreet Housing and Development in Barre and Housing Vermont.
But GMT and city officials were still wrestling with last-minute details that include hiring employees to staff the ticket counter that would allow waiting passengers to use the bathrooms, if they show a ticket or ID. GMT is also working on finding a vendor, such as a coffee shop, for the waiting room.
“The Transit Center is still closed to the general public while staffing and data are being finalized,” said Public Works Director Donna Barlow Casey.
Resident Stephen Whitaker, who was present at the start of service on Monday, was concerned that the pedestrian bridge over the North Branch river connecting the transit center to Main Street had been closed by the city. It meant that anyone wanting to get to the transit center has to go around, either via State Street or Memorial Drive.
Whitaker said he had been told that the bridge couldn’t be plowed because the surface of the former Mowatt property nearest Main Street had not been graded and paved, causing plows coming off the bridge to dig into the dirt and risk causing damage to the plow.
Whitaker also complained that a pile of contaminated soil — which is partly why the site hasn’t been graded and paved — was still on the site; he maintains it is not properly covered and risked damage to the surrounding environment through erosion and runoff.
Barlow Casey said the city was trying to get permission from the state to address the closure of the bridge with temporary paving on the former Mowatt site.
“We’ve recently made a written request of the state Department of Environmental Conservation for permission to put down temporary pavement on the path leading from the bridge towards downtown and are awaiting their decision,” Barlow Casey said.
“The soil contamination levels are very low and comprised of natural mineral deposits that are consistent with native soils. In regards to the cover for the soil pile, wind has shifted the covering in spite of efforts to tie down the covering. The pile is expected to be moved off site within the next couple of weeks,” she added.
Another area of concern for some passengers at the transit center on Monday were unplowed areas of sidewalk on the south and west sides of the building.
Barlow Casey said there had been some confusion about whether the city or GMT was responsible for plowing, which had since been resolved.
“The access areas to the bike path from the transit center are the responsibility of the transit center,” Barlow Casey said. “The bike path that runs alongside the transit center is the responsibility of the city and I should have clarified this with staff after the first snow event. The department will address this going forward.”
Jamie Smith, director of marketing and planning for GMT, confirmed those details.
Despite the problems, some early commuters were still happy the transit center was in operation.
Douglas Badger, of Montpelier, was waiting to catch the Waterbury Commuter bus and willing to be patient.
“It’s the first day that we get to try out this new terminal,” Badger said. “I believe it’s going to help a lot of the congestion (in town).”
Also waiting for the same bus was Dawn Wood, of Barre, to travel home after an overnight shift at a telephone call center in Montpelier. However, the switch of the bus’s downtown pick-up point meant a longer walk for her to the transit center.
“I used to get off at the Subway (store) or at Shaw’s (supermarket), depending on what errands I needed to run before work,” Wood said. “Now I’m having to go twice as far to get to where I work, which is on the other end of Main Street.”
Smith said there had been some confusion about the change in services with the opening of services, but said the general response to the transit center has been good.
A link to the changes in the operations of GMT in Montpelier, maps of GMT routes and bus schedules can be found at https://ridegmt.com/montpelier-transit-center/
For more information about GMT services, call 223-7287.