Caledonian Record

By Jennifer Hersey Cleveland Staff Writer

A woman who says she assists people in navigating the Public Service Board (PSB) process is being investigated by the Vermont Attorney General’s office for the alleged unauthorized practice of law.

Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, received a letter from Assistant Attorney General Zachary Chen advising her of the investigation dated January 19.

The letter indicates that Chen’s office was provided with documents from an unidentified source that raise questions about Smith’s role in several PSB dockets.

Those dockets include the Barton Solar project and investigations into meteorological evaluation towers in Swanton and Irasburg.

“The documents provided to us raise questions about the possible unauthorized practice of law in these cases,” Chen wrote.

Not only is the source of the documents unidentified in the letter, but so is the substance of the allegations, with Chen providing only docket numbers as reference.

“In light of the concerns raised by the documents with respect to the possibility of the unlicensed practice of law, I would be interested in receiving any further information that you may wish to provide to this Office regarding your involvement in the above-mentioned PSB proceedings,” Chen wrote.

PSB rules allow people who are not licensed to practice law to provide representation in some cases, like an agent of a corporation, for instance.

The practice of law in Vermont is defined by case law as including “the rendering of services for another involving the use of legal knowledge or skill on his behalf — where legal advice is required and is availed of or rendered in connection with such services,” according to a 1962 case.

Chen wrote that the practice of law is not limited to court appearance, but also includes things like preparing filings.

Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell, chief of the criminal division, said he can’t comment on open investigations, but he confirmed that his office is investigating someone for the unauthorized practice of law, which is considered criminal contempt of the Vermont Supreme Court.

Treadwell said his office has prosecuted such cases in the past, but it is rare, and the last case was more than 15 years ago.

If the Attorney General’s office were to file charges, the citation would be a public document, Treadwell said. The remainder of the documents, including the source of the complaint, would become public following an arraignment.

Smith did not immediately respond to an e-mail regarding this story.