NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- With the Aug. 28 primary growing near, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell forcefully pushed back Friday against the charges and arguments of his Democratic primary challenger.
Sorrell, a Burlington-native who has served as AG for the last 15 years, is facing Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan. A former Chittenden County prosecutor himself, Sorrell has also served as secretary of administration for former Gov. Howard Dean, who appointed him attorney general in 1997.
Sorrell told forum host Michael Bethel and WBTN 1370AM host Dave Lively that he is seeking re-election because more work remains.
"There’s an awful lot to do and important issues to do, among them, continuing to fight the lawsuit against the Entergy Corp.," he said, referring to the owners of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
Sorrell cited what he said were highlights of his service, including strengthening the state’s consumer protection efforts. He said he was able to convince lawmakers to commit funding for additional measures.
The prevalence of child pornography has also required strong action, Sorrell said. Hundreds of computers across the state host images that are available to others on the Internet, he said. The Legislature appropriated extra money to his office, allowing it to better investigate those crimes, according to Sorrell.
"I went in with a proposal to the Legislature to increase funding to the state to the tune of $200,000," Sorrell said.
Additionally, Sorrell said the attorney general’s office has made it a priority to help protect Vermont seniors from abuse. He said the state has a high population of seniors that could be susceptible to scams and abuse. Sorrell said he has worked with AARP and others to prevent physical abuse as well as identity theft and phone and Internet scams targeting seniors.
"We’ve been very, very aggressive about protecting seniors, both on the civil side and physician abuse," he said.
Donovan has promised to create a special unit dedicated to preventing elder abuse. Sorrell said that work is already being done.
"We’ve been recognized in-state and nationally for our effectiveness. Calling it some special name is more like moving the deck chairs," he said.
Like Donovan, Sorrell said he believes local communities should decide if their municipal police departments are equipped with Tasers. Sorrell also rejected the idea of a moratorium on Tasers. which some called for earlier this year after a state trooper wielding a Taser killed a man.
"My view is that a moratorium would be over-reaching and unnecessary," he said. "I think to take away that available weapon from a well-trained officer could result in more problems."
Sorrell said he studied the use of Tasers following an incident in Brattleboro several years ago. His report concluded that Tasers are "a lethal weapon," but "certainly less lethal than firearms." A clear policy is necessary to prevent the abuse of Tasers, but they can "save lives when used by a trained officer," he said.
"It’s a weapon. You’re not allowed to use a billy club against someone that is non-violent and sitting there," Sorrell said.
The report also called for communities to have the ability to weigh in on the issue, and that any agency using Tasers have a written policy, according to Sorrell.
Donovan has criticized Sorrell for losing high-profile cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including campaign finance and a data-mining case. Donovan said he would hire outside experts to argue cases on behalf of the state. Donovan has also faulted Sorrell for not working closely enough with lawmakers to ensure that legislation passes constitutional muster.
Sorrell said Friday that he would continue to argue cases personally on behalf of the state, and that voters are looking for an attorney general who is "competent and effective in the Legislature and effective in our courts."
"I think what Vermonters want is an attorney general that is not afraid to go to battle in the U.S. Supreme Court," he said.
Sorrell also noted that the state had prevailed in lower courts until it "ran into the most conservative Supreme Court that this country has had in the last 100 years."
Hiring experts, even at a discount, would cost taxpayers significant amounts of money, Sorrell said. One firm offered to argue the campaign finance law that was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court at a cost between $600,000 and $800,000, he said.