Explaining positions of assistant judge (side judge), probate judge

To the Editor:

While campaigning for my third term as Chittenden County assistant judge, I have encountered many voters who seem confused about the difference between an Assistant judge and a probate judge. One voter asked me if I was running against Gregory Glennon, the probate judge who is not an assistant judge.

I would like to help clarify the differences between the two judgeships, so that Chittenden County voters can make an educated and informed choice in the upcoming primary on August 14.

A probate judge is required to have a law degree (not a requirement for assistant judge), and deals with “matters of law” including decisions regarding adoptions, guardianships, estates, name changes and trusts. An assistant judge, commonly called a side judge, deals only in “matters of fact.”

In hearing a case where there is no jury (often family court cases), there are two assistant judges sitting on either side of the presiding judge as the local presence, (thus the term side judge). Together, the three judges decide on the facts of the case, determining whether to rule for the plaintiff or the defendant. The resulting decision is considered to be “a matter of fact” and must be agreed upon by at least two of the three judges. This “matter of fact” will be used by the presiding judge and he or she will apply it to the law when making the decision.

Assistant judges also have administrative duties – setting the yearly county budget to keep county properties running effectively and efficiently. These include the sheriff’s office, the probate court, and the civil court. Assistant judges are also responsible for hiring the county clerk, the sheriff’s secretary and the sheriff’s bookkeeper.

I hope I have cleared the air regarding the differences between probate judge and assistant judge (side judge), and defined for the voter the duties of the assistant judge, a position I have been honored to hold for the past eight years.

Further information about the role of assistant judge, visiting my website: connieforassistantjudgel.com, or the Vermont Association of County Judges’ website at vtassistantjudges.org.

Connie Cain Ramsey
Chittenden County
assistant judge

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