MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott has tapped Superior Court Judge Karen Russell Carroll Thursday to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, who will retire from the bench at the end of the month.
The selection of Carroll, first appointed as a state Superior Court judge in 2000 by former Democratic Gov. Howard Dean, means the five-member Vermont Supreme Court will have a majority of women justices for the first time in state history.
Scott, speaking at his weekly news conference Thursday, said the gender balance of the court did not weigh into his decision-making process. Rather, the governor said he focused on each candidate’s history and personality.
“The personality of Karen, I think, lends itself well to the court,” Scott said.
Scott said Carroll, a resident of Vernon, was selected because she met his test of four Cs — character, competence, commitment and chemistry. Scott said Carroll impressed him when he interviewed her for the high court opening and she met all four factors.
“I take a look at those four Cs, look at their backgrounds. I like to see a lot of common sense, as well,” the governor said at his weekly news conference Thursday. “I appreciate when I took a look at Karen’s background, serving on the court for 16 years, a prosecutor before that, her dad was a state police officer — there were just many factors that entered into my decision-making and I thought that she was so highly qualified that she stood out.”
Carroll will replace Dooley on April 1. Her nomination is subject to confirmation by the Vermont Senate, which is expected to offer its consent.
Carroll has a lengthy legal resume in Vermont. She has presided in the Family, Criminal and Civil Divisions of the Superior Courts in Windham, Windsor and Bennington Counties. Before being appointed by Dean, Carroll worked with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office as the prosecutor for the Southern Vermont Drug Task Force for six years. She simultaneously served as a Special Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Vermont prosecuting serious drug cases in the U.S. District Court.
The native Vermonter was born in Newport and graduated from Proctor High School and Salve Regina College in Newport, R.I., with a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences Degree in Criminal Justice and English and French Literature. She earned her law degree from Vermont Law School in 1988.
Scott said Carroll’s extensive experience was appealing.
“Her background, her breadth of knowledge serving in a number of different courts. Grew up in the Northeast Kingdom. It was just a lot of attributes that led me to make that decision,” Scott said.
Dooley, 71, announced last September that he was not seeking retention and would leave the bench when his term expires on April 1. The selection of Carroll by the governor brings to a close a convoluted process to replace him, which required a decision by the state’s highest court, including Dooley himself.
Former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin called on the Judicial Nominating Board to forward him the names of well qualified candidates, as laid out in state statute, when a vacancy becomes known shortly after Dooley’s announcement. The Judicial Nominating Board complied with Shumlin’s request and forwarded him six candidates that had been vetted by the board. But House Minority Leader Don Turner and Republican Sen. Joe Benning, who at the time was the Senate minority leader, filed a petition with the Supreme Court challenging Shumlin’s authority to nominate a new justice.
The Supreme Court, including Dooley, ruled unanimously that the vacancy would not occur until after Shumlin left office, and that he could not extend his appointment authority beyond the end of his gubernatorial term, leaving the pending vacancy to be filled by Scott.
Scott, who was sworn into office on Jan. 5, asked the Judicial Nominating Board to reopen the search for Dooley’s replacement after taking office. The board generated a new list of candidates that included eight names, adding two candidates to the original list sent to Shumlin.
Scott said he instructed his staff not to tell him who was in the original pool and who was added later as a way “to remain objective.”
“That was no factor in my decision-making,” he said.“We were blessed with a number of highly qualified and talented candidates.”
Scott said he did not consider any political issues when selecting Carroll.
“I take a look individually, as I’ve done with my entire administration with secretaries and commissioners. There was no litmus test as to whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. It was more about the talent and your competency in this decision,” the governor said.
Carroll will join Chief Justice Paul Reiber and associate justices Harold E. Eaton, Beth Robinson and Marilyn Skoglund on the court.