The office of the justice of the peace is a county office; however, the justices are elected by the town voters. The justice of the peace used to perform important judicial functions in the towns, but this authority has largely been repealed, so that today justices of the peace play a very limited role in Vermont. Aside from administering oaths of office and solemnizing marriages, virtually all of the justice’s authority derives from his or her membership on the board of civil authority. These duties include assisting in elections, delivering and counting ballots, maintaining checklists and hearing tax appeals.
A Justice’s jurisdiction is not limited to their town or county when performing (discretionary) marriages and civil unions, but may do so anywhere within the boundaries of the State of Vermont.
Before a Justice performs marriages and civil unions, one of the parties must have a valid license issued from the office of the clerk of the town in which they live, if residing in Vermont. If from out of State, a license can be obtained in any town in Vermont. The application must be signed by one of the parties to the proposed marriage or civil union.
The Justice must fill in their section and return it to the town clerk that issued the license within ten days of the ceremony.
Board of Civil Authority
The Board of Civil Authority has election responsibilities, hears appeals of property assessments, and serves on the Board of Abatement. The Board of Civil Authority is made up of the following voting members:
· The Justices Of The Peace
· The Board Of Selectmen
· The Town Clerk
- Election Responsibilities.
Responsibilities fall into the following categories.
- Checklist maintenance. As a member of the board of civil authority, the Justice of the Peace is responsible for maintaining the voter checklist. This includes additions – removals as well as purging the entire list every two years. By statute the Board of Civil Authority is required to meet as a board 10 days before each election to vote on applications.
- Conduct of Elections. For all elections, the Board of Civil Authority has charge of the conduct of elections within the polling place, which means
•designate the polling location
•establish the times polls will be open
•determine the number of voting booths to put up
•work at the polls during the election
3. Freeman’s Oath. Administering the freeman’s oath to new voter applicants.
Appeals of Property Assessments.
This board comes together after a taxpayer has grieved to the board of listers but is still dissatisfied with their appraisal. The taxpayers next option is to appeal to the board of civil authority by writing to the Town Clerk, who then calls the board together to hear the grievance. This works in the same way a courtroom operates. The taxpayer will give his version of why he feels his assessment is unfair. The listers then have a chance to submit their reasoning on why they feel their decision is fair and the assessment should stand.
The board’s job is to listen to both parties and gather information. They can also ask questions of the listers or witnesses. The board does not go into any deliberation at this time. They designate three (3) members of the board to an inspection committee which visits the premises in question and responds back to the board with their findings of facts. The committee needs to report back to the board within 30 days from the hearing.
When the board reconvenes, they hear from the inspection committee, which is in open session, then go into deliberative session, which is closed, and reach a decision ratified by board vote. (This deliberative session is exempt from the open meeting law and, therefore, the public has no right to be present or be notified of the hearing.) The appellant is then notified of the board’s decision by certified mail.
A quorum of the board in a grievance hearing is satisfied by any number (although never less than three) of board members showing up for a duly warned meeting.
Board of Abatement
This board is made up of the following voting members:
- Justice Of The Peace
- The Town Selectboard
- The Town Clerk
- The Town Treasurer
- The Town Listers
A majority of a quorum of the board may act for the board. For instance, if eleven members of a twenty-one member board are present, six of them must concur in the decision. This requirement in respect to a quorum need not be met if the town treasurer, a majority of the listers and a majority of the selectmen are present at the meeting.
There are 6 criteria in which the board may abate taxes in whole or in part. These are the “only” reasons in which the board can abate taxes.
1. Taxes of persons who have died insolvent.
2. Taxes of persons who have been removed from the state.
3. Taxes of persons who are unable to pay their taxes, interest and collection fees.
4. Taxes in which there is a manifest error or a mistake of the listers.
5. Taxes upon real or personal property lost or destroyed during the tax year.
6. The exemption amount available under 32VSA 3802 (11) to persons otherwise eligible for exemption who file a claim on or after May 1 but before October 1 due to the claimant’s sickness or disability or other good cause as determined by the board of abatement, but that exemption amount shall be reduced by 20 percent of the total exemption for each month or portion of a month the claim is late filed.
The person requesting an abatement presents their case, discussion is in the open and the board votes at that meeting in open session. When this board is in session, there should not be any executive sessions.
As an elected justice of the peace, a Justice is also an ex-officio notary public. 24 V.S.A. §441. What this means is that when a Justice is elected and have taken office (February 1st ), they can then qualify as a notary by going to the county clerk and signing a certificate of appointment which is recorded in the county clerk’s office. In spite of the ex-officio nature of this position, a Justice must still apply, take the oath of office, as any other notary for each net term you are elected or appointed as justice. There is no charge for becoming a notary because of the position, but once a Justice resigns from office or are no longer qualified to serve, this ex-officio status as notary public will cease.
One important fact regarding fees for notary services. If you are a notary ex-officio, the law requires that you perform notarial services without charge or fee.
Current List of Justices of the Peace:
Note: Each justice serves a two-year term.
Kenneth Wheeling, Chm.