Defense attorney blasts Bennington County state’s attorney as rift goes public

Bennington County Prosecutor Erica Marthage makes an appearance on GNAT-TV in 2018.
Richard P. Burgoon Jr. accused Bennington County Prosecutor Erica Marthage, seen here, of “bullying tactics” in a letter sent Monday to Vermont Attorney General Charity Clark. Marthage has defended her actions. GNAT TV screenshot

Bennington’s attorney, Richard P. Burgoon Jr., alleges that the Bennington County Attorney’s Office filed ethics suits against him to “harass” him in retaliation for his zealous defense of his clients, an allegation the prosecutor denies.

Burgoon spelled out his grievances about the actions of Bennington County Prosecutor Erica Marthage and Bennington County Assistant Prosecutor Alex Burke in a letter sent Monday to Vermont Attorney General Charity Clark pages to print.

Burgoon, an attorney at Furlan & Associates, works as a “conflict counsel” when the public defender’s office has a conflict of interest that prevents it from defending a case in Bennington County.

“I’m not a prosecutor, but it seems to me that I’ve gotten under Erica and Alex’s skin professionally, and rather than just getting involved on the field, in the courtroom, they seem more interested in, well, what exactly ? ” he wrote.

“Hounding a 62-year-old penniless defense attorney multiple times because they’re interested, well, what exactly?” Burgoon wrote. “Doing these things with government funds and pushing the ideas, goals and parameters that you want to use as Attorney General – against the defense attorney for doing his job?”

He described the prosecutor’s actions as a “bullying tactic” based on “personal revenge”.

Neither Marthage nor Burke responded to phone and email messages sent Monday and Tuesday seeking comment. On Wednesday, Marthage replied to an email from VTDigger and indicated that she would not comment beyond an interview she gave with the Bennington Banner.

In the Banner’s story, Marthage addressed four incidents where her office felt Burgoon had failed to adequately back down when instances of “apparent conflict” arose.

One such case, Banner reported, involved a person charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Marthage said Burgoon represents a criminal defendant while also representing the victim of the crime, but he did not back down until others became aware.

“This is an outrageous conflict,” Marthage told the banner.

Burgoon stated in his letter that Marthage and Burke had filed a total of six or possibly seven complaints against him. He said they were all dismissed — a claim difficult to confirm due to confidentiality restrictions imposed by the Vermont judiciary, which oversees such complaints.

Burgoon also wrote that prosecutors charged him in court filings with two crimes — tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice — but that none of the allegations resulted in charges, disciplinary action, or the revocation of his license to practice law.

In an interview on Monday, Burgoon said the ethics complaints are kept confidential and he does not keep the versions provided to him.

“I don’t have them because when they’re done and there’s nothing left, I don’t want to keep them. You’re a waste of my time,” he said.

In response to additional questions, Burgoon said in an email on Tuesday that he had looked through his emails to try and find some of the ethical complaints and found two that had been filed by Marthage.

One concerned the allegation that he had contacted a witness already represented by counsel. He wrote that he could not find the dismissal of that complaint, but recalled that it had been dismissed. The second, containing the resignation letter, dealt with his ability to represent a client.

Michael Kennedy, attorney for the Vermont Judiciary, wrote in an email Tuesday that the rules of the Vermont Supreme Court provide that such complaints and related information are confidential unless a formal proceeding occurs.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that a complaint was ever filed against Attorney Burgoon,” Kennedy wrote. He said Burgoon “was never the subject of a formal disciplinary proceeding.”

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio said Monday he “saw no evidence that[Burgoon]was doing anything unethical.”

“He’s a very strong advocate for his clients,” said Valerio. “I have seen nothing to suggest that whatever he does, he is not acting in the interest of his client.”

Lauren Jandl, chief of staff in the Vermont Attorney General’s office, confirmed that her office received Burgoon’s correspondence.

“After an initial review, the office has no knowledge of the facts or allegations raised in the correspondence,” Jandl wrote in an email on Monday. “Note that each prosecutor is an independently elected official and is not part of the attorney general’s office. Also, the Attorney General does not oversee the prosecutors.”

When asked why he sent a letter to the attorney general’s office when Marthage was independently elected by Bennington County voters, Burgoon replied, “I think in the parlance of our world, it’s the court of last resort,” he said.

He described receiving an ethics complaint as “scary”.

“When you get the email saying an ethical complaint has been filed against you, I don’t care who you are, it takes your breath away,” Burgoon said.

Burgoon said he wasn’t sure what action the attorney general would take.

“I want the Attorney General to know what’s going on. That’s all,” he said.

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