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Safe Choices Client Wins Right to Talk to Lawyer Privately

May 25, 2011

Billy Bennett proudly displaying a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Courtesy Photo

Second judge issues temporary relief from abuse order to protect Bennett from another client.
NEWPORT – Judge Dennis Pearson recently issued an emergency order preventing the Department of Aging and Independent Living (DAIL) from interfering with William Bennett's right to speak privately and meaningfully with his attorney, Gertrude Miller.
Miller filed an emergency motion to stop DAIL employees, specifically staff members of the "Lowell House" where Bennett resides, from listening in on phone conversations between Bennett and Miller, limiting the phone conversations to ten minutes, constantly interrupting those conversations and engaging in distracting noise and harassing comments during the conversations.
Miller detailed two incidents in which she was unable to have a meaningful client-attorney conversation with Bennett because of actions of the Lowell staff. She stated that Bennett was intimidated by the staff and afraid of getting into trouble for talking to his attorney.
Judge Pearson wrote, "(1) Within the four corners of this particular proceeding, where respondent does have a clear statutory right to counsel, see 18 VSA Sec. 8846, and that necessarily means private, confidential communications, the court would be more inclined to fashion some remedy to implement legislative mandate, if it comes to that. (2) Before some 'separation of powers' issue must be contested, the court is confident that the Commissioner, exercising control over the terms of placement, will find some reasonable and safe means to allow respondent to have meaningful, private communication with counsel."
Miller represents Bennett in several actions aimed at removing him from DAIL's control and from the Safe Choices program for alleged retarded sex offenders. Bennett was placed under DAIL and in the Safe Choices program as a result of an Act 248 hearing.
Bennett's current legal guardian is his mother, who is trying to remove him from the programs, but her access to her son and ward has been severely restricted by DAIL and the court. Since beginning her battle to remove him from what she sees as a harmful environment, she has not even been allowed to talk to him except under supervision.
In a separate action, Judge Robert Bent issued a Temporary Relief from Abuse Order against Charles Phillips, who also resides at the Lowell House. The judge ordered Phillips to not abuse or stalk Bennett and to stay 50 feet away from him.
Early in March of this year, DAIL placed Bennett, a 24-year-old man who looks more like a 15-year-old boy and suffers from learning and developmental disabilities, in a home with a two men whom Miller said pose a serious threat to Bennett's safety, one of whom is Phillips. One, said Miller, is a sexual predator with a proclivity for young males, of which Bennett appears to be the type; the other (Phillips) is a man with a violent temper who has allegedly threatened to hurt or kill Bennett.
In the affidavit in that case, Bennett states that "Charles" goes into a rage, punches the walls and furniture, threatened to beat Bennett up and to kill him.
Bennett must still reside in the same house with Phillips.
The Relief from Abuse Order is temporary and subject to further hearings.

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