By Guy Page
Days after one of Gov. Phil Scott’s judicial appointees was lambasted by a state senator for giving low bail to a repeat criminal and known flight risk, Scott appointed to the Vermont bench former Washington County prosecutor and Attorney General candidate Rory Thibault, who during a campaign last year called ‘equity’ a core value of Vermont criminal justice.
“Seriously Senators!,” began an email about Superior Court Judge Justin Jiron early last week from Sen. Russ Ingalls (R-Essex) to every other senator. “An assault weapon, cocaine and warrants, and is out on $200 bail, and this guy is still a Judge!?” Jiron was appointed by Scott in 2021 and will serve until 2027 before going before the Legislature’s Judicial Nominating Board. Vermont Daily Chronicle outlined several previous ‘catch-and-release’ decisions by Jiron from the Caledonia County Court bench – including some criticized by prosecutors and police.
On Friday, Scott announced the appointment of Thibault. Like Jiron (former Chittenden County deputy state’s attorney), Thibault is a former state prosecutor with experience in the Attorney General’s office.
“Rory has a proven track record of public service in Vermont throughout his time as a prosecutor, in the U.S. Army, and as an active member in his community,” said Governor Scott. “I’m confident his experience, work ethic and temperament will make him a strong Superior Court judge.”
Thibault has over fifteen years of experience practicing law with a background in criminal, juvenile, and military law. In 2018, he was appointed by Governor Scott as Washington County State’s Attorney and was elected to a full four-year term later that year. Previously, Thibault served as an assistant attorney general, deputy state’s attorney, and served in the United States Army as a judge advocate where he earned the rank of Major.
“I am excited to begin this new chapter in my career and look forward to being part of a judiciary committed to promoting fair and efficient justice for all Vermonters,” Thibault said in a press release published by Scott’s office.
An interview Thibault gave to WAMC last May, during his unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General, sheds light on his understanding of ‘fair and efficient’ justice:
“When someone does come into the criminal justice system, we need to look at them beyond just the title of the offense,” Thibault said. “The focus needs to be on, who is this person? What do they need? And what can we do to reduce the risks they present to the community or ultimately what needs to be done to rehabilitate them and ensure that they have the tools and are situated in the community to not go down that path again. And frequently it’s the essentials. It’s housing, employment, and in some cases the means to sustain recovery or absence from substances.”
Thibault also spoke up for equity as a Vermont value.
“I want to pursue a system of justice that’s rooted in Vermont values,” he told WAMC. “And quite simply put I think those are equity, integrity, and empathy. These are foundational to good stewardship of a public position.”
Thibault earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Richmond, and a J.D. from Vermont Law School. Thibault is a member of the Vermont Sentencing Commission and previously served as a member of the Governor’s Community Violence Prevention Task Force. Thibault and his wife have two children.
In 2019, Thibault issued a public letter claiming Northfield Police Chief John Helfant had withheld evidence favorable to an Hispanic man and a Black man caught possessing drugs during a traffic stop. “These cases raise concern that Chief Helfant engaged in disparate treatment of a Hispanic male and an African American male” compared to the white women who were driving the cars, Thibault said.
In a rebuttal letter, Helfant disputed the charge of ‘disparate treatment’ based on race: “This is a disingenuous statement to make for several reasons. As explained above, there are no constitutional issues. Secondly, both Caucasian female operators were also arrested so there is no bias. All four people were arrested because they had committed drug crimes deemed illegal by the Vermont Legislature, nothing more or less.”
Thibault, who is also a part-time farmer, lives in Cabot with his wife and two children.
Categories: State Government