The position is currently held by Erica Marthage, a Democrat, who is running for another four-year term. She is being challenged by Kevin Rambold, who is running as an Independent candidate. Marthage was first elected in 2006.
Rambold has worked as an attorney in both Long Island, N.Y. and Manchester for 20 years. He and his family moved to the area 12 years ago. They previously owned The Lawyer and The Baker Cafe in Manchester, which is under new management now and known as The Roundabout Cafe. "I've been pondering running for this job for quite some time," he said.
Rambold said he has the experience as a litigator and through his appointments with The Vermont Defender General to provide conflict council for defendants to be a successful State's Attorney. He said he did not run for the position in the last election cycle because he was working for the State's Attorney's office in Bennington at the time. The voters, he said, deserve a choice for such an important position.
"It sort of goes against my democratic principles ... that anybody would run for such an important position unopposed," he said. "In addition to that, I think that the current State's Attorney has been there since 2006. State's Attorney is an important job and there's a lot of power involved and I think that when somebody holds a job for too long without change, the job rather than being a service to the public, becomes a sort of instrumentality of that person, becomes more of their instrumentality."
Marthage, who before being elected State's attorney worked in the office on the juvenile docket, said she is comfortable running on her record. Marthage said her office tries very hard to use community resources - like some of the court diversion programs through the Center for Restorative Justice.
"I have a pretty strong record of success and I'm pretty proud of my record," she said.
Drug use, specifically opiates, is a pervasive problem her office has been trying to combat. However, Rambold feels not enough has been done, and community-based alternatives and resources have been wasted. Promises, he said, have gone unfulfilled.
"The expansion of the use of community-based resources as a means of expeditiously adjudicating less serious matters ... Diversion Courts, CRJ, I don't believe that is used," he said.
"I believe also that using those community-based alternatives would free up limited and very valuable resources to deal with more serious matters. I think that in 2006, I think there was also talk by the current State's Attorney of using the Vermont drug court. That has not occurred. Look where that's got us. We have a serious problem with drug use."
Marthage agrees there is a problem with opiates, one she said she is working to try and fix. However, the reason drug court has not been utilized in Bennington is because there is not one. Only Chittenden and Rutland County currently have a drug court, she said. There was one in place in 2002, when Chittenden and Rutland started their courts, as part of a pilot program, but it was phased out before Marthage took office.
"When I took office in 2007, drug court was already a foregone proposition here," she said. "I was here in the [State's Attorney's] office of the time on the juvenile docket, but there were no referrals. I don't know why, I was not part of decision making."
While there is not a drug court to use, Marthage has instead looked at implementing a program similar to the rapid intervention used in Chittenden. This program has all drug cases screened by a case worker to see if they meet certain criteria - such as whether or not a person has no other charges or is a repeat offender - and then following an evaluation, for a 90 day period, offenders can get help with counseling, insurance paperwork and treatment that is needed, she said.
"Rapid intervention provides that hands-on interaction with a person multiple times a week for multiple hours," she said. "The DOC [Department of Corrections] does not have the ability to do that level of supervision."
This project is not yet officially in place, but Marthage said she hopes this will change. Following the drug sweep in January 2012, the State's Attorney's office tried to work more on figuring out how to get people into treatment facilities.
"Where we were seeing the problem areas, where to get treatment," she said. "We don't have multiple treatment facilities ... up until very recently we didn't have subuxone here. I had people who were repeatedly in court with DLS [driving with license suspended] going to Rutland to get subuxone [a drug used in opiate addiction treatment]."
Marthage said in conversations with treatment providers and others in the community, they concur that arrests will not solve the problem. Addressing the addiction itself and lack of treatment will be helpful. However, she said her office's job deals with public safety and she planned to continue aggressively prosecuting those who do the most harm to the community. While Marthage feels she has been working very well with the community in tackling the problems facing Bennington County, like opiate addiction, Rambold did not share that view. He said he thinks she has been in the job for too long and her office does not have a sense of reasonableness.
"Resources should be dedicated to serious matters, that was a promise. Many of the things the current State's Attorney pointed out in her predecessor are things that are occurring down there now," he said. "I don't know if that comes over a period of time because you're in the job and you're not challenged and it's just not right .... When that's unchecked and not challenged it can lead to arrogance and a breakdown in faith in the criminal justice system and I believe that is happening in Bennington."
Marthage said she disagreed with Rambold's assertion that there has been a breakdown of faith in the criminal justice system. As a State's Attorney, not every defendant likes her, because she is the one prosecuting them, she said. However, in many cases, she said her office tries very hard to use other tactics - like diversion court. But in some cases, she said, people will be incarcerated for what they have done.
"This job is interesting and challenging and sometimes very frustrating, but it's also pretty rewarding," she said. "I love being able to work with folks in the community and talk to them."