The Vermont Judiciary is comprised of: the Vermont Supreme Court; a Judicial Bureau supervised by the Supreme Court; and the Vermont Superior Courts, which have several distinct divisions.
Vermont Supreme Court
The Vermont Supreme Court was established by the Vermont Constitution in 1777, is the top level of the Vermont judicial system, and was established to: 1) hear appeals cases from the lower courts and some administrative agencies; 2) oversee and administer the Vermont court system; 3) set the rules for appellate, criminal, and civil procedures; 4) be responsible for disciplinary authority for all Vermont attorneys and judicial officers; and 5) admit attorneys to practice in Vermont.
The Supreme Court is comprised of the four Associate Justices and the Chief Justice. Responsibility for daily operations goes to the Supreme Court Clerk and the Clerk’s staff. The Clerk of the Court is also the Court Administrator, and under the supervision of the Supreme Court manages the Vermont state court system.
Vermont Superior Courts
The Vermont Superior Court System is responsible for civil, criminal, family, probate, and environmental cases and has a division dedicated to each of those responsibilities. There are 14 Superior Courts, one for each county in Vermont, and the court location for each is in the County Shire (county seat).
Civil Division: The Civil Division of the Vermont Superior Court in each county hears civil cases such as land disputes, medical malpractice, personal injury, wrongful death, evictions, foreclosures, and breaches of contract. Although the court encourages litigants in Superior Court to hire an attorney to represent them, it is not a requirement, though litigants are expected to have familiarity with the Vermont Rules of Evidence and Civil Procedure. The Civil Division hears Appeals cases from the Probate Court.
Small Claims Courts are part of the Civil Division and are intended for cases with damages claims less than $5,000, and is where litigants represent themselves. If a claim is for more than $5,000 and the case is brought to small claims court, the litigant gives up claim to any amount over the small claims limit. The Civil Division also takes Notary Public and Passport applications.
Criminal Division: The Criminal Division of the Vermont Superior Court in each county hears cases where the government of Vermont has accused an individual of violating state laws, and those can be either felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are crimes for which a defendant, if convicted, could serve more than two years in jail, for life, or result in punishment by death and include crimes such as murder, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, and armed robbery. Misdemeanors are crimes that result in sentences of less than two years, and include, but are not limited to petty larceny, malicious mischief, gambling, simple assault, and driving while intoxicated.
Family Division: The Vermont Superior Court in each county has a Family Division that is responsible for legal matter related to families. They include issues related to marriage, including separation, divorce, anulment, desertion, and child support, but also include issues such as parentage, domestic abuse protection orders, Juvenile cases (unmanageable, abused, neglected, or delinquent children), and Vermont State Hospital commitments. There are no jury trials in Family Court, and most matters are handled by the Presiding Family Division Judge. The exception is child support orders, which are handled by the Family Court magistrates.
Probate Division: The Vermont Superior Court Probate Division in each county is responsible for adoption cases, name changes, guardianships, estates and wills, correction of death and marriage records, testamentary trusts, and emancipations of minors (establishment of a minor to live independently of parents and make contracts). Probate Division judges are elected to four-year terms and are not required to be attorneys.
Environmental Division: The Vermont Superior Court Environmental Division is a statewide trial court. It has responsibility for hearing appeals from Vermont Act 250 land use permit decisions, Agency of Natural Resources decisions, state environmental permit appeals, and local municipality planning, land use, and zoning decisions. Cases are heard as evidentiary trials in a courtroom of the county where the case originated. Cases often go to mediation, and there is a well-established mediation process.
Vermont Judicial Bureau
The Vermont Judicial Bureau was established by the legislature is supervised by the Vermont Supreme Court and its jurisdiction is statewide. The Bureau has responsibility for civil violation complaints, including these violations: traffic; fishing, hunting & trapping; burning & waste disposal; municipal ordinances; alcohol & tobacco; lead hazard abatement; environmental; and cruelty to animals.
Hearings are held throughout the state. Go here to see the current calendar, or call (802) 295-8869 to find out about hearing locations.
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