Former Windsor County deputy state’s attorney Heidi Remick. Photo via Vermont Law School

The Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office is willing to review cases handled by a former county prosecutor who was recently found to have withheld evidence from a sexual assault defendant. The judge tossed the case on the eve of trial in February due to the prosecutorial violation.

State’s Attorney Ward Goodenough said that, as part of his office’s established procedures, staff members are already reviewing their special investigative unit’s other sexual assault cases. Former Deputy State Attorney Heidi Remick once prosecuted these matters, including the 2018 case that was dismissed last month.

“We’re going to continue to review cases,” said Goodenough, who became the state’s attorney in 2020. “If people would like us to review any case in particular, we’re always doing that on a constant basis with the defense bar. ”

Even cases that are already closed, he said, “are open for review by any defense attorney who wishes to do so.”

The defense attorney in dismissing the sexual assault case, for one, believes the Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office should conduct a systematic review of the cases previously handled by Remick to ensure no other evidence-related violations have occurred.

“It does a disservice not just to the defendants, but also it undermines the entire system and it hurts the victims,” defense attorney Leah Henderson said in an interview. “I think it would put a lot of clients and other attorneys at ease to know that they have everything that they are entitled to.”

According to court records, as part of evidence discovery in 2019, Henderson had asked Remick for information on any untruthful statements from the case complainant — a girl who was reported being raped by a 29-year-old man in 2014.

The records show that Remick responded by saying the state’s attorney’s office didn’t possess such material, and even if it did, it wouldn’t be able to provide it to the defendant. She left the office in 2020.

In February, about a week before the man’s trial, Henderson received what she described as unexpected and potentially exculpatory information from the new prosecutors. The defense attorney learned that, while in New Hampshire in 2016, the girl reported being sexually assaulted by another man, a report she later recanted before taking back the recantation.

That New Hampshire-related case had been referred to Remick for review in 2017, and she declined to prosecute it, according to Windsor County prosecutors.

To Superior Court Judge John Treadwell, this meant Remick possessed information that Henderson had requested in 2019 — and that the state was obligated to provide under the law and criminal court procedure. Even if the girl’s 2014 statements wouldn’t be classified as untruthful, the judge said, they are so closely related to the defense attorney’s request that the prosecutor knew her disclosure obligation.

“The court does not understand how an experienced deputy state’s attorney could write such a response here given the record,” Treadwell said before dismissing the case on Feb. 15, with no option for the state to refile it.

The judge found that the defendant “suffered significant prejudice” because of the delayed disclosure. Treadwell said the state’s not having done so until days before the trial affected the defendant’s trial preparations and tactics, and resulted in the loss of valuable information due to the passage of time.

“The state must not be able to benefit from such a significant violation,” he said from the bench.

Remick, who has moved out of state, told VTDigger this week she has no memory of the case she declined to prosecute in 2017.

“My (admittedly faded) memory of my statement that I would not be able to disclose information was that there were confidential records pertaining to the victim that I did not believe the State at liberty to disclose without a court order,” she said in an e-mail.

Remick said that from 2003-2020, she proudly served the people of Windsor County as an ethical and responsible prosecutor. “I took my discovery obligations very seriously, and I never knowingly misled or deceived the defense,” she said.

“There are no benefits when a case falls apart on the eve of trial (or at trial, or on appeal), especially in sex cases where the very act of emotionally and mentally preparing to testify is itself retraumatizing for victims/survivors,” she said . “My heart goes out to the victim and her family.”

Remick had been listed on the Vermont Law and Graduate School as an adjunct professor as of Feb. 24. Her name has since been removed.

A school spokesperson, Nicole Junas Ravlin, confirmed to VTDigger on Friday that Remick no longer works there. She declined to comment on whether Remick’s departure was connected with the dismiss criminal case.

Vermont Defender General Matt Valerio said discovery violations don’t happen often. Valerio said these incidents usually happen when a prosecutor is new to the job and not as familiar with their obligations, or there’s a weakness in office procedures — rather than a deliberate attempt to jeopardize the defendant’s case.

“What I want to see as a result of this is prosecutors’ paying attention to their discovery obligations and providing defendants with what they need so they can get a fair trial,” he said.

He declined to comment when asked whether the Defender General’s Office, which Henderson was working for in the dismissed case, would bring a complaint before the Vermont Professional Responsibility Board. The board’s work includes investigating reports of attorney misconduct, and its investigations are confidential until the board decides to begin formal disciplinary proceedings.

The Vermont Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the case, saying state’s attorneys are independently elected officials and are not overseen by the attorney general’s office though it has concurrent jurisdiction over their cases.

Stay on top of all of Vermont’s criminal justice news. Sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger’s reporting on courts and crime.

By zonxe