Vermont Business Magazine Saying he will champion social equity and community justice while improving public safety, Williston attorney Ted Kenney announced his candidacy today for Chittenden State’s Attorney. Kenney will oppose incumbent Sarah George in the Democratic primary August 9.
Kenney has been an attorney since 1991 and a member of the Williston Selectboard for 12 years. He is currently vice-chair.
“The criminal justice system needs reform to remove disparities based on race and poverty, but we don’t have to choose between safe streets and reform, or between compassion and fairness,” Kenney said. “We can have all of those things, but we can’t have any one of them without the others.
“I want to give people a sense of hope, which many crime victims, victims’ advocates and members of the BIPOC community feel is lacking,” Kenney said. “We can restore public safety and build a system that infuses racial and economic equity into the system. I will work to close the gaps that have grown up between our different communities, listen to everybody, and provide justice for everyone in Chittenden County.”
Kenney pointed to three policies of the incumbent that are poorly considered, harming crime victims of all walks of life, and making the entire community less safe: 1) the prosecutor’s refusal to ask for court-ordered conditions of release for many violent crimes, 2) the automatic referral of all youthful offenders to juvenile court, and 3) a directive that many serious crimes be deferred from prosecution without any review by the prosecutor’s office.
“I led Vermont’s criminal defense lawyers association, and I know that bail can be abused,” Kenney said. “But bail isn’t the only tool in the court’s toolbox.
“Courts can order reasonable restrictions on defendants to protect public safety while still promoting equity. Those orders are critically important in cases involving violence or repeat offenses. When the State’s Attorney stopped asking for bail, she also stopped asking for meaningful release conditions in many cases where they were sorely needed.
“Not seeking bail is no excuse to release violent people or repeat offenders without conditions of release to protect public safety.”
Kenney said the incumbent is referring all technically eligible cases from adult court to juvenile court.
“Last year, an 18-year-old man shot into a crowd at the University Mall until his handgun ran out of bullets,” Kenney said. “One person was wounded and the suspect fled to Florida.”
The suspect was already awaiting trial for an armed burglary and aggravated assault in Winooski. “When the suspect was captured and returned to Vermont, the prosecutor asked two separate judges to dismiss the criminal case and have the defendant tried as a juvenile delinquent,” Kenney said. “That is simply wrong.”
Kenney said every case – particularly cases involving extreme violence – has to be assessed on its individual merits. “The defendant’s conduct, the level of violence, and their past record must be taken into account,” Kenney said. “Justice requires it.”
Kenney said he would reverse the incumbent’s policy of non-prosecution for a number of serious criminal offenses.
“Cases including burglaries of unoccupied residences, many domestic assaults, unlawful trespass, felony-level sale of stolen property and felony-level retail theft are no longer prosecuted in Chittenden County – or even reviewed by the State’s Attorney for prosecution,” Kenney said. “Instead, these crimes and others are automatically sent to reparative boards. These boards are invaluable, but my office will review every case to determine if prosecution is required.”
“No one approach is right for every case. Crime victims and criminal defendants of every race, creed, gender, orientation and color deserve justice,” Kenney said. “That will be my top priority, and the one-size-fits-all formula in place today will be jettisoned to be sure we treat every case, victim and defendant with the dignity they deserve.”