New judge will serve in Bennington, Rutland counties

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DOVER — Kerry Ann McDonald-Cady of Dover did not always dream of becoming a judge.

"I want to be a judge," she said. "That's what inspired me to apply, but I don't necessarily think it was what I thought I would be doing when I went to law school."

McDonald-Cady said that in the last four years or so, she has been thinking that her skills and knowledge — along with having a specialty in juvenile law — could be an asset. For about nine years, she has been working in family court in Brattleboro.

Fresh out of law school, she worked for the Bennington County state's attorney, followed by one year for the Vermont Legislative Council. From there, she practiced law in criminal, family and civil divisions.

"I'm hoping that kind of balance and experience is helpful on the bench because you can be put in the civil, criminal or family division," she said. "So it's a lot of law, a lot of rules to know."

Her last day at Windham Superior Court, Family Division in Brattleboro was Friday. On Oct. 30, she will be sworn in as a judge at the state civil courthouse in Newfane.

"I've just been sort of putting notes in files and getting things organized," she said in an interview.

Late last month, Gov. Phil Scott announced McDonald-Cady and Lisa Warren of Waterford would be appointed as judges to the Superior Court.

"I'm proud to appoint both Lisa and Kerry to the judiciary, and I'm grateful for their willingness to serve Vermonters in this new capacity," Scott said in a news release. "Both of them have demonstrated integrity, commitment to justice, and bring valuable experience to the bench."

McDonald-Cady replaces Judge David Howard, who retired in 2018, and will be assigned to the west region of the Superior Court, mostly in Rutland and Bennington counties, according to the press release.

She said she cannot be assigned to the court where she just worked because of conflicts of interest, but she will be able to stay in the area.

Bennington is the next county over, McDonald-Cady said, and she lived there after she graduated law school.

"So that was home to me," she said. "I have connections there still. That's still a place we go."

Her family visits doctors and dentists there.

McDonald-Cady said she plans to learn about how to be a part of the Rutland community as well. She knows the weather might be bad some days and cause her to stay in hotels.

"But I think that's the nature of the job," she said.

Having served as a deputy state's attorney in Windham County since 2010, McDonald-Cady represented the state in juvenile abuse, neglect and delinquency cases in the family division. She has also been litigating criminal cases involving the physical abuse of children.

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"It's a confidential docket," she said, noting there might be more foster parents and resources if more people realized the amount of neglect of children in Windham County.

McDonald-Cady called the job "really rewarding but also really painful."

"I think the family court is a unique place where it's not about winning or losing but it's about truly trying to intervene to help the families with issues preventing them from safely parenting," she said. "Everyone's really focused on the child."

Some of the issues she has seen playing out in family court include homelessness, criminality, domestic abuse and substance use disorder. She said the work takes a lot of services and people; children have attorneys, families have attorneys and the state prosecutors traditionally work with the Vermont Department of Children and Families, with judges making decisions on contested hearings and cases.

"I absolutely love the work," she said. "I will truly miss it but I'm looking forward to this different perspective of not being an advocate but helping to make decisions and hopefully making decisions that are sound, follow the law, take into account the facts and are helping people."

McDonald-Cady received the Vermont Justice for Children Task Force award for Exemplary Child Protection and Juvenile Justice Work in 2012. She joined the task force in 2016.

Previously, McDonald-Cady was an associate at the local Fisher & Fisher law firm for seven years. She practiced in the areas of real property, civil litigation, and probate and municipal law.

McDonald-Cady graduated from Binghamton University and received her doctorate from Vermont Law School. She grew up in Long Island but discovered an appreciation for Vermont in law school. She said she has been glad to be able to live here and practice law.

McDonald-Cady also served as a school board member for the River Valleys Unified School District, which governs Dover and Wardsboro elementary schools. Before the districts merged, she had been on the Dover School Board.

"I've really enjoyed that," she said. "That's been a total different area, learning about school boards and public meetings. That's an area I haven't had experience in."

McDonald-Cady said she has learned from experienced board members such as Rich Werner, Rick Thorpe, and Laura Sibilia.

The River Valleys board will be filling her vacancy. McDonald-Cady said she would not be able to dedicate the focus needed to the board and judicial conduct canons say judges should be focused on being judges.

McDonald-Cady said she is "very grateful to Gov. Scott to give me this opportunity."

"Public safety is a top responsibility of any government, and the judicial branch has an important role," Scott said in the press release. "Lisa and Kerry both have a record of sound legal judgement to ensure justice, which protects the vulnerable and upholds public safety."

McDonald-Cady said she will miss the Windham County State Attorney's Office. She described her former coworkers as "dedicated professionals," doing their best each day despite the work being depressing sometimes, "quietly bringing justice to the county."

"We will miss Kerry both personally and professionally at the State's Attorney's Office, but she will be a great addition to the Vermont bench," said State's Attorney Tracy Shriver in an email.

Deputy State's Attorney Grady VerPlanck will take over for McDonald-Cady in family court.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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