Pubdate: Mon, 19 Nov 2007
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2007 Times Argus
Author: Louis Porter
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


MONTPELIER -- Franklin Billings Jr., a former chief justice of the
Vermont Supreme Court, said Friday that Gov. James Douglas was wrong
to tell state law enforcement officers to not take significant
marijuana cases from the office of Windsor County State's Attorney
Robert Sand.

"I think the prosecutors have the sole discretion, or they should
have," said Billings, a Republican and former speaker of the Vermont
House of Representatives.

"He certainly has a right to speak his piece," Billings said of the
governor. "You don't throw everybody in jail because they are charged
with a crime. You have to look at every case."

After Sand recently allowed a 61-year-old Windsor lawyer to enter a
court diversion program after she was allegedly caught with two-and-a-
half pounds of marijuana. Sand has been an outspoken critic of
marijuana law.

At the time Sand said the decision was justified because it was a
first time offense. Douglas, however, said that was the wrong call and
would not have been made by any other prosecutor in any other county
in the state.

Douglas was not available to comment Friday.

"We have to make sure our drug laws are taken seriously, and I think
this step will ensure that in all counties of this state, they are,"
Douglas said at the time.

Sand, preparing for a murder case, declined to comment.

But Billings said Douglas jeopardized the independence of

And prosecutors in Vermont should retain "the idea that you are
looking at rehabilitation and education and not just purely
retribution," in such cases, said Billings, 85.

"As a judge I feel the prosecutor has the discretion just as the judge
has the discretion absent sentencing guildines," Billings said. "That
is what they are elected for."

"I don't think he should interfere with the independence of
prosecutors," he added.

Douglas told Peter Freyne, a columnist for the weekly newspaper Seven
Days that the Windsor County case was so extreme it warranted his decision.

"I believe in and respect prosecutorial discretion. It's an important
part of our criminal justice process," Douglas told Freyne. "But this
is an extraordinary situation where that discretion has been abused.
And I think it's important for me as the executive authority with law-
enforcement agencies reporting to me to ensure that the laws of
Vermont are carried out fairly."

Billings said Douglas decision in the Windsor County matter was
similar to his reaction when Judge Edward Cashman gave what some --
including Douglas -- believed was too lenient a sentence in a sex
offense case.

"It was sort of like the Cashman situation," Billings said of the Sand
matter. "He was interfering and it turned out Judge Cashman was right."

Douglas order that state law enforcement officers refer large
marijuana cases to other prosecuting agencies remains in place.

"The governor's directive remains in place," Jason Gibbs, a spokesman
for Douglas, said Friday. "Beyond that we have nothing to add. We are
moving forward."

Gibbs added that the vast majority of the correspondence the
governor's office is receiving about the matter supports Douglas'
decision. That includes letters from former current law enforcement
officers and others involved in dealing with the drug laws, Gibbs added. 
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