Josh O'Gorman

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Sexual assault charges against senator dismissed

Sen. Norm McAllister, left, looks on as his attorney, Brooks McArthur, discusses the dismissal of the sexual assault charges against his client.

ST. ALBANS — A judge has dismissed sexual assault charges against a sitting state senator. Thursday morning, Judge Robert Mello dismissed two felony charges of sexual assault against Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, who was facing the possibility of life in prison if convicted on either charge. Mello dismissed the charges at the request of Franklin County Deputy State’s Attorney Diane Wheeler, who sought dismissal on the basis of what she called “some information that came to light last evening.”

In this case, “last evening” followed the first day of McAllister’s trial Wednesday, which included testimony from one witness, the now-21-year-old woman who testified McAllister sexually assaulted her numerous times, beginning when she was 16 years old. The accuser testified for more than four hours Wednesday — and was expected to return to the witness stand Thursday — as she recounted alleged assaults that took place on or near McAllister’s farm in Franklin as well as a house in Montpelier he shared with fellow lawmakers during the legislative session. Continue Reading →

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Accuser in McAllister sexual assault case takes the stand

Sen. Norm McAllister in court Wednesday.

ST. ALBANS — The accuser in the sexual assault case of a sitting state senator described her experience with the man as “hell.”

Wednesday marked the first day of the trial of Sen. Norm McAllister, who is facing the possibility of life in prison over two felony counts of sexual assault.

During more than four hours of testimony, the alleged victim — now 21 years old — wore a plaid green shirt and blue jeans and shifted back in forth in her chair as she recounted numerous instances of McAllister assaulting her when she was 16 years old. “I was in hell,” she said, describing the first time McAllister allegedly assaulted her in a barn near his farm in Franklin. McAllister — a two-term Republican senator from Franklin County who is seeking re-election — watched his accuser intently as she described working for him as a farm hand, saying he sometimes made her feel uncomfortable. “Just the way he looked at me, eyeballing me up and down like a person does, undressing someone with your eyes,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Jury set for McAllister sexual assault trial

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ST. ALBANS — The jury is set for the sexual assault trial of Sen. Norman McAllister. Following hours of questioning from attorneys representing the prosecution and the defense, a field of 84 prospective jurors was weened down to seven men and five women. The Republican senator from Franklin County is facing two counts of sexual assault — each count carries a potential life sentence — following his arrest at the State House in May 2015. His trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday and run through Friday. Continue Reading →

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Trees to be removed from State House lawn

MONTPELIER — The State House will be a bit less shady this summer. On Saturday, the five large maple trees closest to the sidewalk along State Street will be cut down, a move prompted by the trees’ poor health and their effect on other nearby maples. For several years, Ira Moser, grounds supervisor at the State House, has advocated for the trees’ removal, a move that would follow the previous removal of some large maples from the lawn that were also located next to State Street, to the west of the large sidewalk that leads up to the front doors of the building. “What we’re fighting right now is soil compaction and salt,” Moser said of the trees slated to be removed early Saturday morning. All five of the trees were planted between 30 and 40 years ago. Continue Reading →

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Environmental activists attempt to “seize” commissioner’s property

RANDOLPH – Environmental activists came to the home of the commissioner of the state’s Public Service Department to demonstrate their displeasure the proposed natural gas pipeline running through the state. According to Henry Harris, a spokesman for a group calling itself the People’s Department of Environmental Justice, shortly after 6 a.m., he and others went to the home of Commissioner Chris Recchia and attempted to serve him paperwork to seize Recchia’s land on behalf of the organization. “We were there to serve Mr. Recchia notice that we were seizing his property,” said Harris, a 37-year-old carpenter from Plainfield. The action is the latest in a number of demonstrations condemning the Vermont Gas Systems Pipeline being constructed in Addison and Chittenden counties, which has resulted in a handful of private properties being seized in the name of eminent domain. In September, six people were arrested for blocking the entrance to Vermont Gas Systems in Williston. Continue Reading →

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Minter unveils economic development plan

BARRE — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter has unveiled her plan to stimulate economic growth in Vermont. Minter stood before the City Place building on Monday to share her plan to invest in downtowns such as Barre, while calling for investment in agriculture, manufacturing, energy efficiency and the tech sector. “Too many people are struggling in an economy that is stacked against them,” said Minter, who highlighted the public-private partnerships in Barre that have led to a revitalization of the downtown. The state has invested $19 million dollars in downtown Barre, resulting in $45 million in private investment, a move that led to the construction of the City Place building, which houses both state offices and private businesses. Minter said that, in her first year as governor, the state would award money to three communities, who will be chosen through a competitive process. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers pass budget bills

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers burned the midnight oil to pass budget bills and ultimately adjourn for the 2016 Legislative Session. Members of the House and the Senate worked late into Friday night to approve a budget for fiscal year 2017 that amounts to an overall increase of 2.4 percent. Lawmakers approved a spending appropriation of $2.46 billion in state funds, including spending for the General Fund, transportation and other special funds. The appropriation amounts to an increase of 3 percent when compared with current spending. Annual growth for the spending appropriation has averaged 3.9 percent over the past five years. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers question refugee plans

MONTPELIER — Rutland City’s mayor says the 100 Syrian refugees coming to the city could be just the first round, even as lawmakers from the county expressed their displeasure for being left out of the loop. Mayor Chris Louras surprised many people Tuesday when he announced the city would begin taking in refugees in October. On Wednesday, Louras spoke with Rutland County’s senators and representatives about the resettlement plans, and offered an apology of sorts for keeping lawmakers in the dark, while at the same time saying he didn’t regret his actions. “There had to be conversations for which this many public officials could not be involved, and while I appreciate many of you feeling blindsided — and man, I’d feel blindsided too, if I were you — I’m owning it,” Louras told the dozen or so assembled lawmakers. “However, sometimes information needs to be controlled during a review process and during a decision-making process,” Louras said. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers address police body cameras

MONTPELIER — Law enforcement will create rules governing the use of body cameras, but a last-minute amendment means those rules will be reviewed and approved by the General Assembly. On Thursday, House lawmakers gave final approval to a bill to create a statewide standard for the way police use body cameras, and the way that information will be used and shared with the public. Senate Bill 174 calls for the Law Enforcement Advisory Board — which is part of the state Department of Public Safety — to create a model policy for the use of body cameras by Dec. 15 of this year. Law enforcement agencies will have until July 1, 2017, to either adopt the model policy or create their own policies that meet the minimum standards established by the board. Continue Reading →

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Highway safety bill challenges civil liberties

MONTPELIER — House lawmakers have given final approval to a transportation bill that creates a threshold for marijuana intoxication, with critics saying the legislation is not based on science and could lead to the disclosure of private medical information. On Wednesday, lawmakers approved SB 225, which lowers the threshold for a driver’s alcohol level when combined with marijuana, and paves the way for roadside saliva tests that reveal not just the presence of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — but other drugs as well. Under the terms of the bill, a driver would be considered impaired when having a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05 when combined with a THC count of 1.5 nanograms.

The current drunken-driving BAC threshold is 0.08. Prior to Wednesday, the bill called for an intoxication level of 0.05 for alcohol when combined with any measurable amount of marijuana. However, Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, introduced an amendment setting a specific amount of THC, which he said was based on numerous studies equating 1.5 nanograms with intoxication. Continue Reading →

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