Impeachment committee to hold secret hearings on Grismore and Lavoie

The impeachment Inquiry Committee, which House Speaker Jill Krowinski said would conduct “a comprehensive and unbiased investigation” of two Franklin County elected officials, will meet behind closed doors tomorrow and Friday.

By Gregory J. Lamoureux, Editor, County Courier

MONTPELIER: The Impeachment Inquiry Committee for the Vermont legislature, which is considering possible action against two elected Franklin County officials, is scheduled to meet for two days behind closed doors at the end of this week.

The committee is initially focusing on Franklin County State’s Attorney John Lavoie for possible improper and insensitive comments reportedly made about and in front of office employees since he was sworn in on Feb. 1.

The posted agendas for both Thursday and Friday only say that after being called to order at 9 a.m. each day, the committee expects to do its work behind closed doors starting at 9:05 a.m. each day. The agendas further say the committee expects to adjourn at 5 p.m. on Thursday and 3 p.m. on Friday.  Nothing else is listed for either day.

The committee, without any objection from any members, has adopted rules that will allow secret sessions, including when witnesses testify about the allegations that could lead to impeachment charges against Lavoie and Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore.

Grismore has been charged in Vermont Superior Court with simple assault on an intoxicated prisoner that was handcuffed and shackled to the floor at the sheriff’s off in St. Albans in August 2022. He has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer has filed a motion to dismiss, which will be heard next month in Grand Isle County.

The Vermont Press Association (VPA), which represents the daily and non-daily newspapers across the state, including at least five that circulate in Franklin County, had raised serious concerns about having secret sessions, but the committee adopted the privacy rules nonetheless.

The VPA later hired a First Amendment lawyer, Matt Byrne of Gravel & Shea, to provide the finer legal points about transparency for hearings. The privacy rules adopted by the committee go against judicial rulings to keep courtrooms open to the public.

The Vermont Association of Broadcasters, which represents the TV and radio stations throughout the state, along with the management of WCAX-TV in South Burlington both later filed their own letters of support for the VPA, blasting the secret hearings.

Rep. Martin Lalonde, D-South Burlington, who chairs the committee, overruled the objections, saying the plans to exclude the public at various times, including taking testimony, would remain in place.

According to the committee website, LaLonde and Vice Chair, Rep. Michael McCarthy, D-St. Albans signed a two-page letter indicating the closed-door sessions were designed to promote truthful testimony and protect vulnerable individuals.

The rules also are designed to encourage the participation and cooperation of witnesses and minimize what they called trauma, they wrote.

State records show Lavoie’s office has at least 10 listed employees that might be called as witnesses. They include Victim Advocates Kelly Woodward and Wendy Boyce and Deputy State’s Attorneys Diane Wheeler, Jennifer Hatin, Deb Celis, and Juliet Dowling. Others include office staff Peggy Wimble, Sherry Pontbriand, and Corinna Stanley, the records show.

An investigative report about Lavoie by Burlington law firm Paul Frank and Collins has been made available to the public, but the names of witnesses have been redacted. The names of some people targeted in the comments also have been redacted but are known through disclosures in the report.

It is unclear if Lavoie and Grismore, the two targets of the impeachment inquiry, will be allowed to sit in for any closed-door testimony about them. It also remains unclear why no complaints were filed by co-workers against Lavoie in his previous 35 years of work for the state in several prosecutorial roles.

Grismore, who appeared on the Morning Drive radio show on WVMT-AM/FM with Kurt Wright and Anthony Neri recently, said he had heard nothing from the legislature.

During the nearly one-hour radio interview, Grismore said he was unaware the legislative committee planned to do much of its important work behind closed doors. He said that did not seem fair.

Most of the expected witnesses against Grismore in the possible simple assault case have been identified in news coverage and in court papers. They include former Deputy Sheriffs Christopher Major and Karry Andileigh, who were the arresting officers of Jeremy Burrows, 42, of Winooski, during a disturbance at his mother’s home in St. Albans Bay in the hours leading up to the incident in question at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, records show.

Former Franklin County Sheriff Roger Langevin, who eventually fired Grismore, and State Police Detective Sgt. Daniel Trottier, who investigated the Aug. 7, 2022 assault complaint, also could be  witnesses.

Grismore, who is normally off duty on Sundays, told the radio audience he had stopped by the sheriff’s office that August 2022 afternoon to catch up on some paperwork. He was in plainclothes when the deputies brought the intoxicated prisoner into the office, records show.

Some contend Grismore kicked the prisoner in the groin to get him to resume sitting.  Grismore said it was not a kick, but a push and it was above the groin.  The incident in a back room holding area was captured on the department’s security video.

During his appearance on WVMT radio, Grismore said he has heard the legislative committee may also look into department financial records while he was chief deputy sheriff. Grismore said nobody called him, including the inquiry committee, to ask any questions regarding the department’s finances.

Besides LaLonde and McCarthy, the other members are Democrats Reps. Matt Birong of Vergennes and Rep. Karen Dolan of Essex Junction, as well as two Republicans on the committee are Reps. Carolyn Branagan of Georgia and Tom Burditt of West Rutland. The lone Independent is Rep. Kelly Pajala of South Londonderry.

Neither Franklin County member of the committee- Rep. McCarthy of St. Albans City and Rep. Branagan of Georgia- reside in municipalities where Grismore’s office currently provides law enforcement services, though the Town of Georgia had a contract until it was terminated abruptly by the former sheriff.

The author is the editor of the County Courier, the weekly newspaper for Franklin County.

Categories: Legislation

12 replies »

    • Another attack on the constitution and our constitutionally elected officials

  1. I’d to know more about the process. Does the committee have the power to remove these elected officials? Or can they decide to proceed to a recall vote? Or something else? Grand juries often meet in secret… how does this differ? Lots more questions than answers in this article. Admittedly I haven’t been following the twists and turns of the story. .I am reflexively opposed to secret government committees and panels, (government by the people, for the people, of the people does not include secret testimony) But a bit more context will help readers to think critically about this topic and the implications for our communities.

  2. In the case of the Franklin County Sheriff, , Sounds like a “Kangaroo Court Proceding….

  3. This legislative impeachment sounds more like a junta holding a tribunal.
    Will alvin bragg be advising in this secret proceeding?

  4. Innocent until proven guilty. You have a right to be judged by a jury of your peers, not a self appointed committee of The Vermont Legislature who think they have the power to interpret and change long standing law and rules. This is the third time in recent history that The Vermont Legislature has attempted to usurp the votes of the voters in Franklin County. I attended all three trials of Sen. Norm McAllister and despite massive amounts of lurid and sordid details reported by the media, McAllister was not found guilty of any crime.

    I’m sure I would not need months of investigations paid for by the taxpayers of Vermont to determine if Franklin County State’s Attorney, John Lavoie and Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore can legally be impeached. I take my duty to vote very seriously and I don’t want the Vermont Legislature to alter the votes of the voters of Franklin County especially when they have to break the rules.

  5. In my opinion bow tie wearing Rep. Martin Lalonde is the worst legislator under that very terrible golden dome.

    He cares nothing for his consituents and would burn the constitution if given the chance.

    • Brian you are 100% correct!!! Lallllonda doesn’t care about you, me or anyone else except himself!!!

  6. Anything done in secret is questionable. What do they want to hide?

  7. Elected representatives, formed an ad hoc committee on their own, and is conducting the People’s business in private meetings? Under the law, I opine that makes their sessions illegitimate, has no authority, and any decision not worth the paper it is written on. I suppose they are taking taxpayer money and time to perform this theater of the absurd, which should be clawed back as they are committing fraud.