Vekos would bring his experience as a defense attorney to the county prosecutor’s job

“All the prosecutors I talk to say they have about 300 cases, which to me means you’re failing; you blame too much… Focus on the really serious cases: the predators, the bad guys who really affect public safety.
—Eva Vekos

MIDDLEBURY — Eva Vekos has spent much of her 20-year legal career defending people — especially minors — in courthouses in Massachusetts, New York and Vermont.

She now wants to flip the script and take on the role of prosecutor, specifically as the new Addison County District Attorney.

Vekos, a 52-year-old attorney affiliated with Middlebury-based Marsh & Wagner PC, will face fellow Democrat Tim Lueders-Dumont in a primary on August 9. The winner will go to the general election on November 8 and will face independent candidate Peter Bevere, assistant district attorney for Addison County.

The strong interest in the position of senior county prosecutor is fueled by the fact that it is an open seat. Former Addison County State’s Attorney Dennis Wygmans, a Democrat, left office in May to become one of two State Highway Safety Resource attorneys. Governor Phil Scott recently decided to appoint Bevere’s acting state attorney until the next election, a move that angered members of the Addison County Democratic Committee who had urged the governor to choose a successor on a list of Democrats submitted by the party.

“I think it would be a natural step up from where I am now,” Vekos said of the job.

She has already had a checkered career.

He started in 1997 as a trial and appellate attorney in the Juvenile Rights Division of the New York City Court System. She has represented children and youth in juvenile delinquency and abuse/neglect cases at trial and on appeal. She has also advocated for young people in foster care and juvenile detention, assessing their needs while developing the “least restrictive placement plans”.

“It was at the end of the crack epidemic,” recalls Vekos. “We represented poor urban kids, mostly black and brown kids, who were raised by their grandmothers and grandfathers, because their parents’ generation was addicted.”

It was sometimes heartbreaking work, as she saw much abuse, poverty and neglect. But the role prepared Vekos for some very difficult types of cases.

“It was an amazing way to start out as a lawyer,” she said.

In 2006, she began an eighth-grade stint as a public defender in the Superior Court Trial Office of Middlesex and Bristol Counties in Massachusetts. She handled a caseload of what she called “serious crime cases” in what was a busy public defender’s office. She has served as lead counsel in jury and bench trials, as well as sentencing hearings. Vekos often consulted with forensic experts, investigators and social workers.

“That’s where I think I learned my testing skills,” Vekos said.

In 2015, Vekos was offered the opportunity to telecommute for a new job, which led her to move to Vermont. Her new job: working as an ad hoc appeals counselor for indigent parents and children under protective orders for Suffolk and Hampden counties in Massachusetts.

The joy of his move to Middlebury, however, was offset by disheartening and sobering news.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“That was literally when the U-Haul was ready to go,” recalls Vekos. “We had bought a repairman (in Middlebury), not realizing I was going to be in for surgery and treatment.”

MIDDLEBURY LAWYER EVA Vekos is one of two Democrats who will face off in a primary Aug. 9 in the race for Addison County state’s attorney.
Photo courtesy of Eva Vekos

But she persevered, undergoing successful surgery and chemotherapy. Vekos signed with Marsh & Wagner, PC, in 2017, representing children, youth and parents in juvenile court and family matters. Marsh & Wagner holds a contract with the state to serve juveniles in the justice system here in Addison County.

Now Vekos is ready for a new challenge – an election, which she hopes will lead to a successful run as Addison County State’s Attorney.

PASSION FOR JUSTICE

Like Lueders-Dumont, Vekos was a fan of the way Wygmans ran the office. When it was clear he was leaving, Vekos began hearing from friends and associates who encouraged her to apply for the position.

She found an attraction for the work of prosecutor.

“My passion is criminal law and criminal justice,” Vekos said. “I’m very interested in politics but not so much in politics; I have no political ambition and I never have.

If elected, one of her goals would be to reduce the workload of the state’s attorney’s office, triaging less serious criminal cases into diversion programs.

“We have too many cases, in general,” Vekos said. “There is a huge backlog now because of COVID. Plea bargaining is neither productive nor fair.

She was blunt in her assessment of state attorney offices that are buried in cases.

“All the prosecutors I talk to say they have about 300 cases, which to me means you’re failing; you’re charging too much and you’re not doing enough work to weed out the cases that really don’t matter,” Vekos said. “Focus on the really serious cases: the predators, the bad guys who really affect public safety.

She applauded Wygmans’ establishment of a diversion program for people charged with driving with a suspended license.

“I would take that back and double down on something like that,” she said, referring specifically to a driving-under-the-influence diversion program.

“We get the picture that there are DUIs that are very low level,” she said. “There are those who are horrible with accidents and people being slaughtered. But there are also low level ones.

While a 0.08 blood alcohol level is the threshold for an impaired driving charge in Vermont, Vekos said, “Any influence of a drug or alcohol in any degree is a felony. I think those beliefs can really affect you more than you have affected the community.

So Vekos thinks the state’s attorney’s office might be looking to deflect low-level DUI cases while recommending treatment programs for people with addiction issues. By successfully completing a diversion program, an offender could avoid a suspended license and quickly get their life back on track, she said.

MENTAL HEALTH

Vekos has seen mental health issues play a part in many cases that work their way through the justice system. Tackling this underlying condition could help prevent crime and help people with mental health issues, according to Vekos, who is a board member for the Addison County Counseling Service.

“I think a lot of criminal cases really need to be handled by the Department of Mental Health, not the Department of Corrections,” she said.

Vekos is a fan of the Project Vision North program, which is replicated here in Addison County. The program regularly brings together local police and social service agencies such as Turning Point, AgeWell, John Graham Housing, Vermont Probation and Parole and the Department for Children and Families to pool resources and, where child protection laws privacy permit, share information about clients with mental health and/or addiction issues.

“I think it would lead to less intervention from the criminal side,” Vekos said. “I think that’s the trend, and if it’s not, it should be.”

While Vekos is a firm believer in the state’s attorney’s office weeding out minor cases, she stressed her commitment to securing convictions for the more serious ones.

“I know firsthand that some people have to go through this (legal) process and that there are victims of crimes who want and deserve justice,” she said. “So I’m 100% comfortable in this role of offering that to the community and doing it effectively.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

About Jessica J. Bass

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