KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- A home improvement fraud case against an Arlington contractor has been dismissed by a judge, who ruled the state’s evidence was not specific enough to support the charges, nor was it presented properly.
Robert H. Brown, 58, of Arlington pleaded not guilty in May 2012 to false pretense or false tokens, home improvement fraud, making a false claim, and giving false information to police.
On Wednesday, Vermont Superior Court Judge Nancy Corsones dismissed the charges "without prejudice," meaning they can be filed again. In her written decision, Corsones said the state should bear in mind her concerns, namely 200 pages of depositions that did not contain any specifics as to how they supported the state’s case.
"We never thought that this was a case that belonged in criminal court," said Brown’s attorney, William H. Meub, of Rutland. "It was a civil matter. It was resolved in civil court."
Meub said Vermont contractors were watching the case against Brown closely, fearing that what had been considered a civil dispute in the past would be considered criminal in the future.
Brown filed a small claims lawsuit against Glen and Linda Hueckel, a couple who owned property on East Manchester Road in Manchester, claiming he was owed more than $5,000 on work he had done to the property’s heating system. The Hueckels, represented by attorney Brian K. Marthage -- the husband of State’s Attorney Erica Marthage -- filed a counter claim against Brown, saying he had done poor work, overcharged the couple, and did some work without their consent.
The small claims case settled in September 2012. No monies were awarded, but the Hueckels did not give up their right to seek criminal restitution if any were ordered. However, if any were to be granted, Brown would be credited $4,000.
Deputy State’s Attorney Alexander Burke declined to comment on the dismissal of the criminal case Friday.
According to a lengthy affidavit by Manchester Police, the Hueckels contacted authorities in February 2012 about the work Brown had done on their property. Their issues were similar to those mentioned in the civil counterclaim.
In November, Meub filed a motion requesting more specific information from the state to support the elements of the charges against his client. According to Corsones’ written decision, the state opposed the motion but the court sided with Brown and a more definite statement of charges was filed in February. This prompted the defense to file a motion to dismiss the case, as it felt the evidence did not support the charges. The motion was denied, but Brown, through his attorney, asked the court to clarify the order.
On June 27, the court issued an order telling the state to outline its claims using admissible evidence, and further ruled the police affidavit was not enough to go forward with the charge. At a Sept. 5 hearing, the state submitted the affidavit as well as 200 pages of depositions from the Hueckels.
"Both Defendant and the Court expressed concern about the State’s tactic of offering two hundred pages of depositions to support the charges, with absolutely no specificity or argument as to how the voluminous material supported the state’s theory of the case," wrote Corsones.
The documents were unsigned, the exhibits referred to within them were not attached, and the state provided no argument as to how they supported the state’s case. Corsones wrote she would thus not consider the depositions on the dismissal motion, and given the affidavit had been ruled out, there was not enough evidence for the state to go forward, so the motion to dismiss was granted.
Meub said he and Brown hoped the state would not refile the charges.