Windham County side judge won’t seek reelection

Retiring State Rep. Carolyn Partridge seeks appointment to fill term of Patricia Duff, who has resigned

NEWFANE — An assistant judge from Windham County who will appear on the Aug. 9 primary ballot said she has dropped out of the race following her resignation from the post earlier this month.

Democrat Patricia Duff, who's held the role since 2006, said three bouts with COVID-19 and associated health issues prompted her to resign. Her health made coming to work difficult, she said.

Duff's colleague, Assistant Judge Lamont Barnett, also a Democrat, is seeking reelection. According to the Vermont Secretary of State's candidate listing, no Republicans are running for the seat.

Every Vermont county has two assistant or “side” judges. Side judges work as finders of fact in civil and family court proceedings. With the proper training, they can also preside alone over traffic cases and uncontested divorce proceedings. Side judges also create the annual budget for their counties.

With Duff dropping out, Windham County voters are effectively left with one choice for two slots to fill.

Write-ins or independents - including a likely bid from a current state representative - could round out the general election in November.

According to Joyce McKeeman, an Orange County assistant judge, and Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham - who hopes to be appointed to fill the remainder of Duff's term - authorities plan to investigate the circumstances of Duff's departure. Neither specified the nature of the alleged investigation.

Duff did not indicate any disciplinary nature associated with her resignation.

“I should have been [at the courthouse] more, but I always kept up the county duties,” Duff said of the months leading up to her resignation.

Duff received $24.20 an hour for her work, according to the Vermont employee salary database.

A spokesperson for the Vermont Judicial Conduct Board declined to say whether the board was investigating Duff, citing the group's disclosure rules.

Barnett, Duff's colleague who is seeking reelection, did not respond to a request for comment.

Partridge said that she and two other contenders - Windham County Clerk Millie Berry and Windham County NAACP President Steffen Gillom - are seeking appointment to the vacant assistant judge position. The governor has the power to appoint someone to fill the empty seat until voters fill it in the next election.

Partridge, who served 24 years in the Vermont House, is not runing for re-election to the Legislature, but says she plans to run for side judge, although it is too late for her to get on the primary ballot for Aug. 9.

For the general election in November, Partridge said she doesn't yet know if she'll launch a write-in campaign or file as an independent candidate, which has a later filing deadline than candidates in the major parties.

Despite leaving the Legislature, “I did not feel that my contributions to my community, my public service, should be at an end,” Partridge said. When she found out about the open side judge seat, she thought it would be an ideal way to continue serving Windham County while working closer to home.

Since resigning, Duff has a new job as a chef at the Wantastiquet Hall event space at American Legion Post 5 in Brattleboro. Now, she hopes to turn over a new leaf.

“The whole pandemic just completely ruined me,” she said. “I love the county and I love the courthouse, and I wish everyone the best.”

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