Ex-Senator Wants Prostitution Case Dropped

Published: 2/4/2019 10:21:35 PM
Modified: 2/4/2019 10:21:37 PM

ST. ALBANS — The attorney for former Franklin County state senator Norm McAllister, whose conviction of prostituting a tenant living and working on his Highgate farm was overturned late last year, is asking a judge to dismiss that charge and not go forward with a retrial.

Robert Katims, McAllister’s lawyer, filed a motion last week in Franklin County Superior criminal court in St. Albans arguing that the misdemeanor prohibited acts charge against his client should be thrown out “in the interest of justice.”

Katims wrote in the filing that prior to the Vermont Supreme Court overturning McAllister’s conviction, his client had already served the probationary term of his sentence on the charge.

In addition, the defense attorney wrote in the motion, his client has since been removed from the Vermont Senate following his arrest, been “lambasted by media publications throughout the state,” and forced to sell off family property to pay legal bills totaling more than $100,000.

Katims wrote that forgoing another trial for McAllister on this misdemeanor charge is not likely to draw opposition from taxpayers, “given the crowded dockets in Vermont’s criminal courts” and the cost of trying him for a third time.

Prosecutors have not yet filed a response to the motion.

A hearing is set for Friday on the motion, as well as other recent filings, before Judge Michael Kupersmith.

McAllister’s case began following his arrest on the Statehouse grounds more than three years ago while he was still a sitting state senator representing Franklin County. He was then suspended from the Senate and later sought to regain his seat, but lost a re-election bid by failing to emerge from the GOP primary.

In November, the Vermont Supreme Court overturned McAllister’s conviction on the prohibited acts charge, agreeing with two of the main arguments raised by his legal team challenging the trial. The jury convicted the former senator on a misdemeanor count of prohibited acts.

According to court records, that charge alleged McAllister, while a sitting senator, prostituted a woman living and working on his Highgate farm to a friend. Prosecutors accused McAllister of using that money, $70, to pay a utility bill for the trailer on his property where the woman was living.

The high court wrote in its ruling overturning that conviction “the trial court committed reversible error when it admitted previously excluded prior-bad acts evidence and when it retroactively instructed the jury to disregard admitted testimony during deliberation.”

By overturning the conviction, the case was sent back to the trial court in Franklin County for a retrial.

The misdemeanor prohibited acts charge is the only charge that remains pending against the former state senator, who initially following his arrest in April 2015 faced many other counts.

McAllister, 67, had been charged with two felony charges of sexual assault, alleging he raped two women who worked for him, including an intern at the Statehouse and the tenant farmhand.

He had also been charged with three counts of prohibited acts relating to prostitution.

Twice McAllister has stood trial, each case involving a different woman. In the first trial in 2016, one of the sexual assault charges was dropped when it was discovered that his accuser perjured herself on a minor detail during her testimony.

In July 2017, in the second jury trial McAllister was acquitted of a second felony sexual assault charge alleging he twice raped the woman who had lived and worked on his Highgate farm.

That jury also acquitted him of a prohibited acts charge. That charge alleged that his relationship with that woman, spanning several years from 2012 to his arrest, was coercive and amounted to prostitution.

The only charge McAllister was convicted on related to the prostitution of the tenant who lived and worked on his farm, and that’s the conviction that has since been overturned by the Vermont Supreme Court.

Following his conviction on the prohibited acts charge, McAllister was sentenced in October 2017 to nine to 12 months, all suspended on probation except 25 days to serve on the prison work crew.

McAllister appealed, asking the judge to stay the imposition of that sentence. The judge stayed the work crew portion of the sentence, but not the probationary part.

McAllister had already “successfully” completed his probation, including required counseling, by the time the Supreme Court issued its ruling in November overturning the conviction, the defense attorney added.

“If Defendant were to be retried and convicted, the Court would then need to address the appropriate sentence in light of the fact Defendant already completed a term of probation for the offense,” Katims wrote.

Norm McAllister

Sen. Norm McAllister stands outside the Franklin County courthouse waiting for it to open in June 2016. Photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

“If he were acquitted,” the defense attorney added, “then the State would have expended resources on yet a third trial to no avail, in pursuit of a conviction on a misdemeanor offense involving consensual sexual activity.”

Katims has also filed a one-paragraph motion objecting to a change of venue in the case. Talk of moving the case from Franklin County to Chittenden County was raised during a hearing in the case last month.

Judge Kupersmith, in that first hearing since the Vermont Supreme Court threw out McAllister’s conviction, told attorneys that he’s considering a move to retry the case in the state’s most populous county due to the intense publicity the case has received in Franklin County.

Franklin County Deputy State’s Attorney John Lavoie said during that hearing he was fine with moving the trial to Chittenden County.

Lavoie said if the trial were to be moved, having it take place in Chittenden County made the most sense since it has a large population of people needed to pick a fair and impartial jury to hear the case.

Lavoie did submit a recent filing of his own in the case, a notice of his “intent to introduce evidence of other acts” against McAllister if the case does go to trial.

Those other acts, according to the filing, include that McAllister allegedly previously offered the woman in the pending case to engage in sex acts with other persons.

According to the prosecutor’s filing, “the evidence to be offered is relevant, its probative value is high and is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, the risk of jury confusion is low, and admission would not cause undue delay, waste of time, or presentation of cumulative evidence.”

Neither Lavioe nor Katims could be reached Monday for comment.

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