The Law Firm of Bucknam & Black PC

The (Drunk) Elephant in the Room

January 27, 2017adminUncategorized0

This piece by Amy E. Davis, Esquire was featured in the Vermont Bar Journal, Winter, 2016-17, Volume 42, No. 3.

In a recent episode of “How to Get Away with Murder,” hot-shot defense attorney Annalise Keating has her law license temporarily suspended following an incident where she slapped a client across the face in the District Attorney’s office.  Attorney Keating agrees to enter an approved alcohol treatment program for the reinstatement of her law license, citing her battles with alcohol as the reason for her behavior.  Unfortunately, this is not just a made-for-TV scenario. Many members of the legal profession struggle with drug, alcohol, and mental health problems. The Vermont bar is no exception.

During my third year of law school, Vermont Law School lost four people to mental health-related issues: Cheryl Hanna, John Trombly, John’s mother Elizabeth, and Erika Lewis.  Not only did news of each death rock our community, but it was an eye-opener for those of us preparing to graduate, take the bar exam, and head out into the legal community.  Cheryl’s death was most surprising. An established professor and a well-respected legal commentator with a loving family, Cheryl had everything we would strive for in a legal career.  Yet there was no indication to the public that she struggled with her success.  Shortly after her death, her husband, Paul Henninge reported to Seven Days Magazine: “I think if there’s any lesson that needs to be considered it’s that the subject of depression needs to be kind of put more out in the light of day.”

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Study

In January 2016, the American Society of Addiction Medicine published a study entitled The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys. The study, funded by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs, looked at alcohol use, drug use, mental health, treatment utilization, and barriers to treatment.  The study surveyed 12,825 licensed and employed attorneys across the United States.

Of those that participated in the study, men, younger attorneys, and newly-employed attorneys had higher problematic usage than their counterparts. These participants scored at levels consistent with problematic drinking. Previous studies had shown an increased prevalence of problematic drinking to correlate with an increased number of years in practice, whereas this study showed the opposite.  A larger number of those citing a drinking problem stated that it began within the first 15 years of practice.

When it came to hazardous drinking or possible alcohol abuse or dependence, women were more affected than men.  Twenty-seven percent of the participants reported problematic use before law school, 14% during law school, 43% within 15 years of completing law school, and 14% more than 15 years after completing law school.  In regards to drug use, the study showed that stimulants had the highest rate of weekly usage (74%), followed by sedatives (51%), tobacco (46%), marijuana (31%), and opioids (21%).

On issues of mental health, the study found that men had higher rates of depression, and women had higher rates of anxiety and stress. The most common conditions reported were anxiety (61%), depression (45%), social anxiety (16%), ADHD (12%), panic disorder (8%), and bipolar disorder (2%).  A little over 11% of the participants reported suicidal thoughts at some point in their career. Just under 3% reported self-harming behaviors, and less than one percent reported at least one prior suicide attempt.

When it came to treatment, of the participants who reported past treatment for drug or alcohol use, only 20% of them used a treatment program tailored to legal professionals. Participants who both had and had not sought treatment reported that the biggest barriers were not wanting others to find out, and concerns about privacy or confidentiality.  The study provided the following conclusion: there is a greater need for lawyer assistance programs, as well as publicity surrounding the confidential nature of those programs, and the expansion of attorney-specific prevention and treatment interventions.

Vermont Stories   

When it comes to issues surrounding mental health and substance abuse, it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario.  Does the drinking start off as innocent fun then lead to the depression? Or, is there an undiagnosed issue there that we try to self-medicate with alcohol?  Rather than speculate about these statistics, I spoke with several colleagues either currently enrolled in law school or recently admitted to practice to get their take on the subject. Many have struggled with alcohol or illegal drug use, and some had diagnosed mental health conditions such an anxiety, depression, and bi-polar disorder.

I am not surprised that so many in the legal profession struggle with issues of anxiety.  My colleagues all shared the same theme as to what contributes to the anxiety: pressure.

Nathan

Nathan is a recent graduate of Vermont Law School.  He and his wife, Carolyn, now live out of state.  They have one child and are expecting a second in the coming months.  He believes that the stresses he faced while in law school are ones that many men his age tend to face early in their career: getting married, starting a family, and wanting to provide for that family. For Nathan, these stressors all occurred while he was in law school.

Carolyn’s pregnancy with his first child during his 1L year sparked a lot of anxiety that he did not know how to deal with. Nathan thought about how he was about to be a dad while still having to deal with the pressures from law school. He would seek socialization by going out and drinking with his colleagues during his first year of law school, and eventually drinking became less of a social function and more of a way of coping with that pressure.  Once he realized the drinking had become an issue, he says he sort of “willed” himself out of drinking. “I have to be a strong person for my family and my child,” he says.

But as Nathan starts his legal career, he feels pressure that goes along with the “traditional male roles” of the husband being the provider for the family.  Money and status play a large role in the pressure he feels to be successful. “Coming out of law school, you’ve accomplished a lot, but you’re back at the bottom again.”  He acknowledges it is a stereotype – when the woman becomes pregnant, the man feels he needs to provide – but it is his reality.  He and his wife have decided that once the new baby comes, his wife will leave her job and stay home with the two little ones.  “If I hadn’t passed the bar exam, she would still have to work,” Nathan says.  Now, he will be the sole earner and he has to earn enough so his wife can stay home with their children.

Alyssa

A current law student, Alyssa describes her struggles with alcohol as starting nearly a decade ago.   She had her first child when she was young, was married briefly, and then divorced.  She felt as though she missed out on “having fun while you’re young.”  She went back to school, but found that she was older than her classmates.  Over the next four to five years, she tried to juggle going to school full time, working full time, and being a single parent. She managed her stress with alcohol and marijuana use, but the drinking soon became problematic.  Alyssa was able to justify her partying by telling herself that she was getting A’s in school, the kids were healthy, and the bills were paid, so the drinking can’t be that bad.  Even if she stayed out until 4 or 5 in the morning, she still made it to work at 8AM. “I never hit the ‘rock bottom’ you always hear about – where DCF drags your kids away or you wind up homeless.”  But then she started drinking on her lunch break and putting vodka in her morning coffee.  She asked for a referral for a therapist from her primary care provider, but nobody called her.

One day, she was doing a political fundraiser. Her children were with a babysitter (as they always were when she was out drinking).  She thought that since the kids were gone for the night, she would let loose even more than usual.  She got incredibly drunk.  Then her babysitter called with an emergency and needed Alyssa to come get her kids.  She drove under the influence to get her children, then drove them the few blocks home.  All she could think was, “What if I died? What if I had killed my kids?”  She decided to accompany a friend to an AA meeting, where a light switch went off.  She has been clean and sober since July 8, 2012.

Alyssa founded an AA chapter when she started at Vermont Law School because she had success with the program back home.  She acknowledges a program like AA is difficult in Vermont because it is such a small community.  You run the risk of seeing your own clients or opposing counsel at meetings, which can be awkward.  In her home state, there was a “Professionals Only AA” that was just for doctors and lawyers to help cut down on these encounters.  She acknowledges Vermont may not have the ability to have such meetings here due to geographic concerns and a lower population, but it’s another possible solution to getting attorneys help with alcohol abuse issues.

Kayleigh

Kayleigh is a new attorney who graduated from VLS a few years back and now practices in a larger Vermont law firm.  She always believed anxiety and depression were interwoven, and she has struggled with both.  “There are higher expectations for women,” she believes. “We have all of the same stressors as men, but we are scrutinized more than our male counterparts.”  Kayleigh used anti-depressants to help with her anxiety and depression, but found the pills messed with her body and decided to use other methods to treat her mental health, such as meditation.  “Part of it is being able to choose to be happy and how you respond to a situation. You need to recognize what does and does not work for you.”  Kayleigh is lucky enough to be at a firm that allows her to do transactional work, which she enjoys more.  “I found the litigation was driving me to drink and shut down.  I was burning out fast.  My firm gave me the option of choosing my career path, so I switched to transactional work.”  Her law gave her a path to a better quality of life where she did not need alcohol to cope with the day-to-day grind.

Annie

Annie has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.  She experienced sexual abuse as a young child, which lead to several diagnoses before her current one. She says that she believes part of her diagnosis causes her to crave chaos and self-harming behaviors.  Self-harming behaviors can be more than just behaviors like cutting.  The entire idea of going through law school seems self-harming.  So is drinking excessively.  For Annie, it took the form of an affair while in law school.  But her desire for unbalance and chaos lead to her becoming a lawyer.  “I tried to have a different career.  I’m an arguer, an overachiever, and I’m adversarial.”  Being an attorney has afforded her an opportunity to argue, excel, and oppose at every corner, which actually works with her bi-polar disorder.

When asked what the legal community could do to address issues of substance abuse and mental health issues, Nathan’s response was: “you can always do more, but it needs to be effective.” His local Bar Association and Supreme Court has an open dialogue about substance abuse and mental health issues. They offer a program that allows an attorney to keep his or her license if that attorney follows certain protocol for reporting the substance abuse problem or a mental health issue.

Kayleigh has seen a number of different counselors, and she saw one throughout law school.  She reports not needing a counselor since she received her law license.  She said that if she did seek help, she would not do group counseling or go through a lawyer-specific program, but would instead seek help from a private or solo psychiatrist.

Nathan thinks that prevention starts with the individual law firms and the environment the senior partners create there.  He has an employer who seems to care a lot about him and his personal feelings.  “The leadership of those who hire and fire and those who have contact with young attorneys should be charged with creating a healthy community. If you have leadership that deals with stress by drinking or taking pills, the younger attorneys will too.”  His employer even offers mental health treatment as party of his employee benefit package.

Kayleigh agrees with the sentiment that it runs deeper than a treatment program, and likens counseling to “putting a Band Aid on a wound.”  “The private practice model needs to adjust to the modern era, including the billable hour model.”  She does not know what the solution is, but says the current model does not give new attorneys a chance to balance work and qualify of life.  The model is a huge demand on people’s times.

Overall, my colleagues and I share the same sentiment: we need to remove the stigma surrounding anxiety and other mental health issues.  “They’re invisible diseases that do not get the same attention as cancer or diabetes,” says Alyssa.  “When you can’t show your symptoms on the outside, and when people aren’t open to discussing it, you cannot get the help you need.”  So while I miss Cheryl Hanna terribly and think of all of the students who will miss her spirit and wisdom, I thank her for sparking a dialogue about this silent killer, depression.  I hope that we can open up with one another about our struggles in order to create solutions for the Vermont bar and the legal community as a whole.








Reading Too Much Into Things

Note: This post was originally published through SCOV Law.

Town of Milton Board of Health v. Brisson, 2016 VT 56

Whenever I see a case involving a Board of Health, my mind jumps straight to those homes in Hoarders that get condemned. Have you ever watched that show? There is nothing like curling up on a Friday night with a bottle of wine and watching Hoarders. Seriously, you will feel so much better for not washing your dishes or vacuuming. Alas, this case is not so much about keeping 60 cats in your bedroom as it is about attorney’s fees.

The (lengthy) facts of this case are straightforward and really not in dispute. And since the legal analysis in this case is pretty short, the facts are really the only interesting part of this case. Defendant owned a two-story brick structure. The bottom floor housed a small bar and restaurant, the defendant lived on the second floor, and the attic was used for storage. In May 2012, the police department notified the health officer that some bricks were falling off the building and onto the sidewalk. The health officer looked at the building, said, “Yep, those bricks are falling on the sidewalk,” and issued an emergency health order condemning the building and declaring it unfit for use or occupancy. The defendant needed to hire a structural engineer to figure out what was going on, and complete all repairs within seven days.

Meanwhile, some more town and state officials came to look at the building. They installed some “Jersey barriers” to create a buffer zone, and determined that the bar/restaurant on the first floor was no longer in operation. The defendant would not allow the officials to inspect his living quarters or the attic. The state fire marshal issued a report saying the building could not be used for occupancy or public use due to the structural problems, heavy rotting in the roof, and moisture damage. The town board held its required hearing on the emergency order where the defendant acknowledged he did not do anything in response to the health officer’s order. The town board issued an order stating the brick wall collapsing endangers the passing motorists and pedestrians, which was an “immediate and substantial public health hazard.” The town board ordered the building remain uninhabited until repairs were made, that the defendant start those repairs within 24 hours, and, if he didn’t make those repairs, the building was to be demolished.

Defendant appealed to the state board of health, and, after a contested hearing, the state board affirmed the town’s order. While that appeal was pending, the town sought a preliminary injunction in the superior court to enforce the town’s order. The superior court issued such an order with multiple conditions to secure and repair the building. Two months went by, and the defendant did nothing, so the town filed for contempt. Defendant did not attend the hearing, and the superior court found him in civil contempt. Defendant had filled in new brick on one side, but had not complied with the rest of the order. The court allowed the town representative to enter and inspect the building, and awarded the town attorney’s fees, not to exceed $600 for the contempt motion.

Defendant asked for reconsideration of the court’s underlying order and the new contempt order. The court held a hearing with the defendant’s contractor testifying to the work that had been completed and what work was still left. The court indicated it might lift the attorney’s fee sanction if a visit from the town health officer went well and there was a solid plan to fix the remaining issues. It continued the contempt hearing until mid-January. In February 2013, the court denied defendant’s motion to reconsider the contempt order on the basis that the masonry repairs ordered back in June had still not been completed. It deferred any final ruling on the attorney’s fees, saying that if defendant finished the repairs in a professional manner, it is “likely” he would not have to pay those fees. But, if the work was not performed, or performed poorly, he would have to pony up the dough.

In August 2013, the court ordered that defendant needed to complete additional repairs before October 2013. When the October 2013 status conference came around, a new judge had been assigned. That judge noted several repairs had been done, but more were needed, and the specific tasks in the August 2013 order were not substantially completed. In the spring of 2014, the superior court allowed the town to conduct a more invasive structural assessment of the building. The assessment took place in June, and a detailed report filed three weeks later. The report indicated that while the brick work had been repaired, the load-bearing capacity of the second floor was below code requirements, and there was roof damage. The report concluded the building was still not fit for public use or occupancy.

In July 2014, the court held a final hearing on the town’s motion for sanctions and penalties. In December, the court issued a decision prohibiting the defendant from any and all public use of the building. It also assessed against defendant $22,256, including a civil penalty of $1,788 ($2 per day for being in violation of the health order from July 2012), $7,886 for the Town’s engineering fees, and $12,582 in attorney’s fees. The court also acknowledged that defendant had complied with specific requirements from the October 2013 order, but stated that “those items alone had never been the sole concern of the Town or the State with regard to over-all safety and risk of public injury because of the deteriorated condition of the Defendant’s building.”

So with all of that hoopla, one would thing that there is a whole bunch of stuff up for appeal, right? Nope. The only thing defendant contends is that this statute does not authorize attorney’s fees. There is an “American Rule” to attorney’s fees that means everybody bears the cost of their own litigation. But, the above-mentioned statute allows the government to get reimbursed for expenditures for the “investigation and mitigation” of a public health risk. The town contends that attorney’s fees are a governmental expenditure and included in the statute. The SCOV says, “Nope.”

When the courts look at a statute, it tries its best to go with the Legislature’s intent. If there is doubt as to the intent, the court looks to the “whole and every part of the statute, the subject matter, the effects and consequences, and the reason and spirit of the law.” So if the Legislature isn’t clear, it’s really anybody’s guess. The SCOV concedes at the outset that a broad interpretation of the statute could include attorney’s fees in with “expenditures.” But, it could be interpreted narrowly to include only those involved in the investigation, mitigation, abatement, or removal of public health risks, like engineers and debris-removal folks. Because attorney’s fees are unique, the SCOV concludes that the Legislature probably did not intend to include those in the statute.

Usually, when the Legislature authorizes the award of attorney’s fees (beyond what common law permits), it explicitly does so. For instance, a tenant can recover attorney’s fees when landlords fail to fix habitability issues. Attorney’s fees are also common in worker’s compensation cases when a claimant wins in the superior or Supreme Court. Then there is some case law that says, more or less, that the Legislature knows how to say if it means attorney’s fees, so the court is reluctant to imply it. The Legislature is a big kid, it knows what it’s doing. But, it’s even more important in cases where it would establish a statutory meaning that is far apart from a common law rule – in this case, the American Rule.

The town argues that alternatively, even if the statute did not authorize an award of attorney’s fees, it was within the superior court’s discretion to award the fees based on and equitable exception to the American Rule. The SCOV again says no. There is a flexible exception to the American Rule, such as where one party acted in bad faith and this caused another to incur litigation expenses in an unnecessary judicial proceeding. The standard of review for an award of attorney’s fees is abuse of discretion. However, departure from the American Rule must only be used in exceptional cases, where justice demands an award of attorney’s fees, which is not present in this case. The superior court made no finding of bad faith, vexation or wanton conduct of defendant’s part. The record shows that defendant was a man of limited means, but nevertheless attempted to comply with the town’s health order.

Even though the SCOV gives great deference to the superior court’s discretion with respect to attorney’s fees, the record does not support a finding of bad faith warranting an award of attorney’s fees. Thus, the SCOV reverses the award of attorney’s fees, and affirms the rest of the judgment.

In his dissent, Justice Dooley with Justice Eaton joining, finds that the statutory language is actually a clear directive to authorize collection of attorney’s fees. The dissent also criticizes the SCOV for relying on a Pennsylvania opinion, despite many Vermont opinions to the contrary. The dissent’s reading of the statute is that the Legislature allowed the recovery of attorney’s fees as a “governmental expenditure.” The dissent also sees no difference between an expenditure for an engineer and an expenditure of an attorney. Each is involved in the investigation, mitigation, and abatement of the hazard, with the attorney determining what must be done legally to eliminate the hazard and require the owner to make repairs. It criticizes the majority for requiring the use of the exact language “attorney’s fees” in the statute in order for the plaintiff to recover attorney’s fees. As a practical matter, the Legislature probably decided not to itemize every time of expense, and decided to lump it together under a general term of “governmental expenditures.”

In any event, add this to list of statutes the Legislature can clarify for us in the future.








What you should know about employment discrimination

What you should know about employment discrimination

Employers and employees are usually aware that discrimination in the work place is illegal. The definition of illegal discrimination, however, can be difficult to understand. As I have shared with clients in the past, it is not illegal for a boss to be a lout.   But when does questionable behavior cross the legal line? Knowing the answer can protect both the employer and the employee.

Generally speaking, discrimination happens when an employee (or potential employee) is treated differently than other employees. There are a variety of legal reasons for an employer to “discriminate” between employees- skill levels, experience, length of time on the job, etc. Discrimination becomes illegal when the employee is treated differently because they belong to a particular category of people. Our legal system recognizes that throughout our nation’s history certain segments of society have been treated differently in the work place for reasons that have nothing to do with job performance. Anti-discrimination laws establish “protected classes” as a means of leveling the employment playing field. Thus, “discrimination” becomes “illegal discrimination” when an employee is treated differently than others solely because the employee is a member of a protected class.

Federal anti-discrimination employment laws

There are a number of federal laws that define “protected class.”  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on the employee’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  The Age Discrimination Act of 1967 protects employees over the age of 40. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector and within state and local governments. (A 1973 law prohibits disability discrimination by federal government employers.) These are just a few of the federal laws that govern employment relationships.

Unlawful discrimination is defined by federal laws in a variety of ways. “Unlawful discrimination” can include harassment based on the basis of membership in a protected class. It includes retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation or opposing the employers discriminatory conduct.  Employer decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about members of a protected class constitutes illegal discrimination, as does denying employment opportunities to someone because that person is married to a member of a protected class.

Unlawful discrimination also includes employment practices which, while not necessarily targeting a specific individual, have an adverse impact on employees simply because of their membership in a protected class. For example, a school systems policy of only hiring new teachers with less than 5 years experience has been found to be age discrimination. Even though the policy did not specifically prohibit hiring anyone over a particular age, the impact of the policy disproportionately disadvantaged older teachers. The school system could offer no legitimate business interest for its hiring policy and as such was in violation of federal law.

An employer can be held responsible for discrimination in the workplace even when the discrimination is not a result of the employer’s own conduct. An employer can be liable for unlawful discrimination when the employer knowingly allows the existence of a “hostile work environment.” Such an environment exists when employees are subjected to harassment (ridicule, intimidation or insults) by other employees because of their membership in a protected class. If the employer becomes aware of the situation and fails to take corrective measures the employer may be subjected to a claim of unlawful discrimination.  While a court may ultimately find that employee behavior was merely offensive and did not rise to the pervasiveness necessary to establish unlawful discrimination, the employer runs a serious risk in not taking complaints about employee conduct seriously.

Federal anti-discrimination laws make it illegal to discriminate in the hiring and firing of employees based on their membership in a federally-defined protected class. But they also apply to a wide range of other employment related activities: compensation, assignment and classification of employees; transfers, promotions, layoffs and recalls; job advertisements, recruitments and testing; use of company facilities; access to training programs; and pay, retirement plans, disability leave and fringe benefits.

Whether federal anti-discrimination law will apply to a particular private employer typically depends upon the number of employees. One notable exception is the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which prohibits sex-based wage discrimination (paying one gender less for doing substantially the same work as their opposite gender colleagues.)  This law applies to all employers who are covered by the Federal Wage and Hour Law, which is virtually all employers.

Vermont and New Hampshire anti-discrimination employment laws

Both Vermont and New Hampshire have their own anti-discrimination laws in addition to the federal laws. In both states the laws are known as the “Fair Employment Practices Act.” In Vermont the laws apply to every employer; in New Hampshire they apply to employers with six or more employees. New Hampshire also excludes from the definition of employer (for purposes of fair employment practices) certain social clubs, fraternal organizations and religious associations.

The federal and state laws are similar in many respects. One noteworthy difference, however, is the definition of “protected class.” New Hampshire defines “protected class” to include marital status and sexual orientation (prohibiting discrimination against people who are- or who are perceived to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual.) While gender identity is not specifically recognized as a protected class, New Hampshire has recognized the right of transgendered people to pursue anti-discrimination claims under the state’s disability discrimination category.

Vermont includes sexual orientation in its definition of protected class, but also specifically includes gender identity and “ancestry.” Vermont also prohibits employment practices which discriminate against someone solely on the basis of having had a positive HIV-related blood  test. (It is illegal in Vermont to make the taking of an HIV-related blood a condition of employment.)

In Vermont drug addiction and alcoholism are considered physical or mental impairments protected by its anti-discrimination law. (No protection is afforded if current drug or alcohol use prevents the employee from performing their job duties or if their employment would threaten the safety or property of others.) Federal law protects people who suffer from alcoholism but not people who use illegal drugs. New Hampshire’s law mirrors the federal policy.

In both states the laws encompass the federal law protections by reference, but also provide for independent legal claims.  An employee can file suit under both state and federal law, lose the federal law case but still prevail on claims based on the state law.  (The general rule is that federal law provides a minimum basis of Constitutional protections; states are free to provide protection above and beyond the federal law.)

What can employers do?

It would be impossible for an employer to completely eliminate the potential for claims of discrimination. And not every complaint of discrimination made by an employee rises to the level of unlawful discrimination. But litigating such claims comes with the risk inherent in asking a judge or jury to decide, as well as the cost in money, time and resources. Taking steps to minimize the potential for employment discrimination makes financial sense.

  • Work with a legal or human resource professional to develop a discrimination policies and procedures manual for all employees. Keep the manual up to date;
  • Review the manual with management staff and have them sign off on having taking training and understanding their responsibilities. Hold management accountable for what goes between employees on in the work place;
  • Require employees to review the manual, and consider requiring periodic training on discrimination issues;
  • Provide employees a method for bringing complaints forward and encourage them to bring complaints forward sooner rather than later;
  • Hire a human resources professional who is trained in, experienced with and sensitive t o discrimination issues;
  • Act quickly but thoughtfully when discrimination complaints are brought forward. Involve the employee, the employees manager and the human resources professional. Take disciplinary action that is appropriate to the situation and document the steps taken. Doing nothing in the hope that “things will blow over” is usually the worst thing an employer can do in response to complaints of discrimination.

What can employees do?

Employees who believe they have been the victim of discrimination, harassment or retaliation in employment have several options:

  • Bring your concerns to your manager or department head. Follow your company’s internal complaint process. If this fails to resolve the matter in a satisfactory way, consider seeking assistance from an attorney;
  • Private sector employment discrimination complaints are handled by the Civil Rights Unit of each State’s attorney general office. State employee discrimination complaints are handled by the state’s Human Right’s Commission;
  • Discrimination complaints brought under federal law can be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.








It’s Been awhile–update on the firm

March 6, 2009adminUncategorized

>I have not posted for quite awhile. We have been very busy, and many exciting things have happened at the firm since the last post. We hired a new paralegal and two new administrative assistants in 2008. One of our administrative assistants was promoted to paralegal.
Ginni Lavely was promoted from administrative assistant to paralegal. She comes from a banking background, and is full of energy and intelligence. Steve Bousquet came to us after running his own real estate business. He enjoys the “other side” of the real estate transactions, and is excited about our doing real estate transactions in New Hampshire. He is also assisting me in the litigation side of the practice. Jennifer Rector is an administrative assistant, a lightning fast learner, and is now taking paralegal courses. Sue Norgrann is our newest administrative assistant. She is organizing me, which is great for me and our clients.
Aaron Melville has left us to start his own practice. He is very excited about that, and we are happy for him. Monday a new attorney will be starting here to fill the gap left by Aaron; when he comes, we will introduce him to you.
Finally, because we are establishing a presence in New Hampshire in our real estate practice as well as our litigation practice, we have changed our name from Liberty Title and Closing Company of Vermont to MontShire Title Company. We will be launching the new website within the next few weeks, and posting the link on this website.

None of this can convey what a great place this is to work in–at least for me! Our staff members are the greatest: intelligent, kind, thoughtful and optimistic. Everyone’s goal is to give our clients superior service; our clients deserve nothing less.

One final note: we are now on Facebook, with a Deborah T. Bucknam and Associates Law Firm page. I invite you to be a fan!








Why did I start a Vermont Family Law blog?

April 15, 2008adminUncategorized

>Hello…I have been practicing Vermont Family Law since 1979. I thought a Vermont Family Law blog might be a good forum to discuss Family Law issues ( a topic of some passion to many Vermonters), and to pass on some opinions and thoughts of my own.

A BIG DISCLAIMER: I cannot and will not give legal advice to anyone through this blog. My advice to anyone seeking specific help for a legal problem is this: Talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can only give good advice if he/she knows all the facts, and that can only occur if you sit down in front of a lawyer and discuss the issues. I know that talking to a lawyer may not be your idea of a fun couple of hours, and you may not want to pay for that unpleasant experience –who wants to pay a couple of hundred dollars an hour to go over painful subjects with a stranger, you ask–, but here is why, and how it can be a little less painful: First, you are not only a client, but a customer, and you should expect good, compassionate service. So don’t be intimidated by the lawyer–He/she is providing a service to you just like other skilled service people–plumbers, auto mechanics, carpenters. Second, you do not have to hire an attorney for life: all family lawyers I know will gladly provide consultation for you even if you cannot afford to hire the lawyer to represent you in court. It is a good investment. Family break-ups not only involve major life changing issues for you and your family, and also involve major financial issues. A consultation with a lawyer can save you money in the long run.
Well, this is my first attempt at blogging. I hope some of you will find it useful. Cheers!








Get Adobe Flash player