Ramsey: Judge roles explained

To the Editor:

I was one of two candidates who won the Democratic primary for assistant judge in August, each of us receiving about 20 percent of the vote. Technically, however, we lost to a blank space on the ballot that received 38 percent of the vote.

I don’t believe that voter apathy or a negative view of the office of assistant judge was to blame. I believe it had to do with the public’s confusion over the role of assistant judge, and the difference between the offices of probate judge and assistant judge.

As I wrote in a letter before the primary, 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 and trusts. An assistant judge – commonly called a side judge – deals only in “matters of fact.”

In cases where there is no jury (often family court cases), there are two assistant judges sitting on either side of the presiding judge (thus the term side judge). Together, the three judges decide on the facts of the case, the resulting decision considered “a matter of fact,” agreed upon by at least two of the three judges. The presiding judge applies this “matter of fact” to the law in making a decision.

Assistant judges also have administrative duties such as setting the yearly county budget that includes the sheriff’s office, the probate court, and the civil court. They hire the county clerk, the sheriff’s secretary and the sheriff’s bookkeeper.

I have been honored to hold the position of assistant judge for the past eight years.

An informed and educated electorate is the backbone of a democracy. I hope this helps Chittenden County voters make an educated decision when voting for both assistant judge and probate judge positions in the November elections.

Connie Cain Ramsey
Chittenden County assistant judge

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