TAFTSVILLE NEWS                                                                                      FEBRUARY 4, 2016

I was deeply troubled to read recently that Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), is being investigated by the Vermont Attorney General’s office for practicing law without a license.

Annette is a fascinating personality. She lives off the grid, is totally committed to the environment, and believes that commercial production of wind and solar energy is destroying the environment in order to save it. She can be abrasive, and can come across as a know-it-all. When it comes to opposing such development, she happens to know a lot.   Developers, and their attorneys, fear and loathe her.

For those of you who may not know, Annette was a vital part of Taftsville’s early efforts to oppose the commercial solar development on the land behind the cemetery. We were ultimately successful in forcing the developer to back out of the Taftsville project largely because of the advice she provided to us. Our small victory here provided hope to others. It gave pause to the Vermont Assembly, which has revisited the entire process, and made changes to allow ordinary citizens and towns a larger role in the decision-making, and a bigger voice in what happens in their backyards.

Annette has helped many small groups of Vermonters negotiate the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the Public Service Board and its permitting process. She provides her knowledge and expertise for free. Annette has been a thorn in the side of many a developer, and now their high priced lawyers and lobbyists are going after her.

According to an article by Deb Bucknam in the VTDigger, the charges amount to overreach on the part of the State Attorney General’s Office, and likely will be thrown out. Their effect, however, will be palpable, giving pause to anyone thinking of taking on the big boys.

I should mention that at no time during our discussions with Annette did she pass herself off as a lawyer. She provided us with a blueprint of how the PSB permitting would unfold, and advice on what actions we could take and what would be the most effective. In point of fact, she told us that at a certain stage in the proceedings we would need to retain legal counsel.

If providing advice such as this constitutes practicing law, then most of us have been guilty of it at one time or another. I trust that sooner rather than later the Attorney General’s Office will dismiss the allegations. In the meantime, I find the persecution of Annette Smith to be an embarrassment to the State of Vermont and all of its residents who value their freedom of speech.

My opinion of lawyers (certain acquaintances excepted), not especially high to begin with, has dropped another notch.

Charlie Wilson