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Former Vermont Supreme Court Justice Found in Violation of Conduct Rules

May 10, 1988

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ A retired state Supreme Court justice abused his power by helping a female friend who was then an assistant judge, a board said in a report issued Monday.

The state Judicial Conduct Board found Justice William Hill in violation of codes governing conduct on five of 11 counts after members disagreed on the nature of Hill’s relationship with Jane Wheel.

Michael Marks, one of Hill’s lawyers, said Monday that he would ask the state Supreme Court, which is the final judge of Hill’s conduct, to overturn the findings by the seven-member conduct board.

The board said in a report to the Supreme Court that ″serious violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct were committed by Justice Hill″ and found ″the entire judicial system is still suffering from the fallout of his misconduct.″

The board made no specific recommendation of discipline, leaving it up to the Supreme Court to determine whether Hill should be reprimanded or forbidden from coming out of retirement to hear cases.

Hill, who turns 71 on Tuesday, retired from the Supreme Court last year, a few months after the misconduct charges were filed in January 1987 against him and two other justices.

The charges against Justice Ernest Gibson III were dropped and Justice Thomas Hayes died.

Meanwhile, the scandal worsened a backlog in the state’s highest court, as the justices refused Gov. Madeleine Kunin’s request that they step aside, and instead disqualified themselves from hundreds of cases involving people connected with their case.

All three justices were originally accused of improperly using their clout on the court to advance the interests of Wheel, who was then an assistant judge in Chittenden County.

A court employee testified that Wheel had been seen with her arms around Hill, but Hill and Wheel testified they were not close and did not have an affair. Hill described the relationship as collegial.

The Judicial Conduct Board ruled that Hill presided over cases involving Wheel when he should not have and that he improperly helped her.

The board found Hill innocent of many of the misconduct charges dealing directly with the Wheel relationship, but two members filed a dissent arguing that a significant relationship did exist.

Marks said his interpretation was that the board felt there was an appearance of wrongdoing but no real wrongdoing.

Wheel, who lost her re-election bid in 1986, has been convicted in a separate criminal case stemming from allegations that she billed the state for days she did not work. She has yet to be sentenced.

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