Vermont Supreme Court suspends law license of Addison County’s top prosecutor

By ALAN J. KEAYS

VtDigger

Published: 03-27-2024 3:38 PM

The Vermont Supreme Court has suspended the law license of Addison County State’s Attorney Eva Vekos.

“We conclude that the evidence here warrants the immediate interim suspension of respondent’s license to practice law,” the unanimous ruling issued Wednesday morning stated.

The decision, however, does not mean Vekos has to step down from her elected post.

John Campbell, executive director of the Vermont Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, said in an interview last week that a person does not need a law license to serve as state’s attorney.

But the duties that someone without a law license can do while a state’s attorney are fairly limited to mainly administrative tasks since they cannot practice law, keeping them from taking part in court hearings or drafting court documents, according to Campbell.

Asked Wednesday morning after the ruling was issued if Vekos intended to remain working as state’s attorney, David Sleigh, her attorney, replied, “That’s certainly been my understanding.”

The Supreme Court’s decision comes a week after the justices held a hearing on whether Vekos should be temporarily barred from practicing law for failing to provide information related to a medical leave she took following her arrest in January for driving under the influence.

“We note that this case is not about whether respondent’s medical records should be provided to Disciplinary Counsel,” the five-member court’s decision said. “The issue here is solely about whether (Vekos) responded to a lawful demand for information under (court rules). She did not.”

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“Respondent’s behavior presents a substantial threat of harm to the public,” the opinion stated. ”Because she did not cooperate with Disciplinary Counsel, he ‘cannot determine if a disability investigation should be opened,’ and he ‘cannot assess how to protect the public.’ ”

A prosecutor for the state panel overseeing Vermont lawyers contended that Vekos’ failure to cooperate with an investigation into her leave warranted an “immediate” suspension of her license to practice law.

Sleigh, Vekos’ attorney, countered that his client, who has since returned from the medical leave, should not have to provide the information since there have not been complaints nor evidence shown that she is not up to the job as the top prosecutor in Addison County.

Vekos went on paid medical leave Feb. 9 and returned to her post about three weeks later. The leave followed her arrest on the night of Jan. 25 on a drunken driving charge after she allegedly showed up impaired to the scene of a suspicious death investigation in Bridport, Vt.

Vekos refused to perform field sobriety tests or to take a breath test and would not agree to be photographed or fingerprinted once at the state police barracks in New Haven, Vt., where she was processed for the driving under the influence charge.

Vekos, in the days following her arrest, had an email exchange with law enforcement leaders in Addison County in which she stated she no longer felt safe around police and mocked their grammatical skills.

She has since pleaded not guilty to the charge, which remains pending with the next hearing in the case set for May.

In announcing her medical leave last month, Vekos, through her attorney, Sleigh, stated she would be returning to work “once fully grounded and up to the task.”

In a press release stating she would be returning to her post earlier this month, Vekos said she had “deep regret” for comments in the earlier email exchange with local law enforcement leaders and would be meeting with them to help restore working relationships.

A petition was filed by Jon Alexander, disciplinary counsel for the Vermont Professional Responsibility Board, in late February seeking an “immediate Interim suspension” of Vekos’ law license. Alexander said Vekos had failed to cooperate with an investigation into her medical leave. That panel, which oversees allegations of misconduct of lawyers in the state, is part of Vermont’s judiciary.

Alexander wrote in a filing that without information related to the medical leave there were several unanswered questions, including whether the reasons for the medical leave had been resolved or were now under control.

Sleigh, in arguments during the hearing before the Vermont Supreme Court, said there has been no indication that Vekos has not been performing her duties as state’s attorney since her return from medical leave.

“At this point,” Sleigh told the justices, “Mr. Alexander isn’t able to say that she’s exhibited any other psychiatric, psychological or medical disabilities in her continued practice as state’s attorney.”

Sleigh, speaking Wednesday morning, called the decision “curious.”

He added that while the justices stated in the ruling that the matter was not about whether Vekos’ medical records should be provided to Alexander, it doesn’t say what information should be provided to him.

“It’s a little unclear to me what it is that we failed to produce,” Sleigh said. “I emailed Jon Alexander (this morning) what it is he wants besides medical records that the Supreme Court said weren’t what was at issue and of course we’re awaiting his response.”

The decision, Sleigh said, does not specifically state what Vekos must do to have the suspension lifted.

“It kind of hints that she doesn’t have to directly provide her medical records without a formal legal ruling on whether those are subject to production,” he said. “We’ve reached out, as I said, to ask for a clear statement of what is being asked of us.”

A footnote to Wednesday’s ruling stated that the justices “encourage attorneys to take time away from practicing law” when it is needed as well as take advantage of services through the bar association.

“In this case, however, (Vekos) provided Disciplinary Counsel with no information about any issues that she might be experiencing,” the footnote stated.

“Absent cooperation from (Vekos),” the footnote added, “Disciplinary Counsel cannot assess the full scope of the circumstances involved, including whether a referral to a Bar Assistance Program might be appropriate.”

Vekos was elected to her first four-year term as Addison County state’s attorney in November 2022.