Vermont's court system is comprised of Probate Courts, Family Courts, District Courts, Superior Courts and a Supreme Court
Vermont's Probate Courts handle probate cases, estate administration, wills, adoptions and guardianships, emancipations and name changes. There are 18 judges serving the Probate Courts.
The Family Courts hear all family law cases, such as child support and custody, domestic violence, marriage and divorce, mental health cases and juvenile delinquency. Judges for Family Court are collected from District Court, Superior Court and magistrates to decide cases. This court does not have trials.
There are 17 judges serving Vermont's District Courts, and each county has at least one. These courts have original jurisdiction over nearly all criminal cases in the state and some civil matters. Municipal ordinance violations, traffic infractions and suspensions of driver's licenses are heard in these courts.
In Vermont, the Superior Courts have jurisdiction over nearly all civil cases in the state, including small claims up to $5,000. These courts also hear appeals from lower courts, and utilize panels of three judges to decide these cases.
Vermont's Supreme Court is located in Montpelier, and serves as the state's appellate court. Vermont has no intermediate appellate court. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort and has original jurisdiction over questions of the state's constitution and cases against administrative agencies. There are a total of five justices serving the Supreme Court.
In 2001, a man by the name of Michael Brillon was arrested in Vermont on charges of felony assault. He was appointed a public defender, and sat waiting in jail for three years before he was convicted by a jury in 2004. During this three-year period, he was appointed a minimum of six different defenders, who left the case for a variety of reasons. Brillon fired some of them, others withdrew because he threatened their lives, and still others were released by the court.
The original trial court denied the motion to dismiss Brillon's case under claims to his right to a speedy trial, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Brillon's attorney appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which vacated his conviction and said the State did not afford him the speedy trial he had a right to. Vermont's Supreme Court stated in its opinion that the three-year wait for trial was "'extreme" and the factors of "'length of delay, reason for delay, defendant's assertion of his right and prejudice to the defendant" all pointed to violations of his rights. It went on to explain the delays were largely the fault of the State because they did not assign willing counsel during his incarceration.
In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Vermont Supreme Court decision, stating that the delays are not the sole fault of assigned counsel, but attributed to the defendant's wishes, citing Brillon's several continuances and delays at trial court due to his own disruptive behavior. There was a six-month period where he was not assigned counsel that could be attributed to the State, but the other two and a half years he did have counsel that acted on his behalf and were representing him as they were legally bound.