A former Windham County assistant judge who is on probation for stealing public funds is now facing related administrative charges.
On June 12, the Vermont Judicial Conduct Board lodged a complaint against former judge Patricia Duff, alleging she violated the state's code of judicial conduct by collecting payment based on falsified work hours and by pocketing money intended for judicial training.
Since Duff, 61, of Newfane had already resigned from her judicial position last June, the sanctions she faces appear confined to a written warning or public reprimand.
The Judicial Conduct Board filed the complaint less than a week after Duff pleaded guilty June 6 in Bennington Superior criminal court to a felony charge of grand larceny. The court ordered her to undergo three years of probation, part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
She admitted overreporting by 352 hours the time she'd worked on court cases between Jan. 1 and June 4 of last year, thus collecting from the county $8,500 to which she wasn't entitled.
The administrative complaint, prepared by a special counsel to the board, Bonnie Badgewick, alleges that Duff breached several provisions of the Vermont Code of Judicial Conduct: She violated the law, eroded public confidence in the judiciary, and abused the prestige of judicial office for personal and economic interests.
The document includes an accusation against Duff that had not previously been reported. It said that, in the spring of 2022, the Windham County treasurer gave Duff a check for $5,500 that was meant to cover travel and attendance costs for a conference of the National Judges Association in South Carolina.
But, the complaint states, Duff did not attend the conference and returned only $700 of the money meant for the educational conference.
“Respondent, by and through her actions, has abused her office to advance her personal and economic interests,” Badgewick wrote.
Speaking in general about Judicial Conduct Board procedures, board chair Barbara Blackman said the body can file a complaint against judges up to three years after their departure from the judiciary.
“The three-year look-back provision is there just to promote the public confidence in the judiciary,” Blackman said in an interview.
The disciplinary rules show that judges found to have violated the Vermont Code of Judicial Conduct can face a range of sanctions: a written warning, a public reprimand, limitations on their judicial duties, suspension of a portion or all of their remaining term in office or other appropriate sanctions.
Duff had not yet submitted a response as of June 19, though board records show that Burlington attorney Robin Cooley has received it on her behalf. Duff was first elected as an assistant judge in 2006 and resigned June 17, 2022.
Assistant judges are leaders of Vermont's county government system. Each county has two independently elected assistant judges who are responsible for administering the county budget and other county government business.
Assistant judges also serve as finders of fact in civil and family court alongside the presiding superior court judge, and so are also called “side judges.”
Police said that in addition to Duff's hourly pay for hearing court cases, she received a monthly salary of $1,700 for her county administrative job.