NEWPORT CITY — Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan opposes Newport businessman Andre Desautels’ request for a new trial over Vermont’s mask mandate.
An Orleans Superior Court judge on March 12 ordered Desautels to stop violating Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s emergency orders during the pandemic, saying he must wear masks and observe other protections for his employee and customers in his Main Street print shop. He could face fines.
Afterward, Desautels, “stunned” by his loss in court, fired attorney Deborah Bucknam of St. Johnsbury and hired Robert Kaplan who filed a motion on April 8 for a new trial. In the motion, Desautels said Bucknam mishandled the case, allowing a preliminary hearing to become a full-fledged trial.
Donovan, in a motion filed Monday in Orleans Superior Court civil division and released Wednesday, said Desautels and his business HNR Desautels LLC isn’t entitled to a “second bite at the apple.”
“A party cannot secure a new trial, wasting judicial resources, the time and resources of their opponent and the time of witnesses, because they were unhappy with the counsel’s performance and would like a second shot,” Donovan argued.
Donovan stated that there is no general right to effective representation in civil matters, saying Desautels’ real option is to sue Bucknam for malpractice.
Citing court precedents, Donovan said the right to effective counsel applies in criminal cases, not civil cases.
He also said that Desautels and his new attorney did not allege that a different legal strategy would have resulted in a more favorable outcome.
A status conference in the case will be held on April 29.
Mask Mandate Opposed
Desautels operated The UPS Store, now called Derby Port Press, on Main Street in Newport City where Desautels admitted in court that he did not wear a mask in the store.
His employee did not wear a mask to avoid anxiety attacks, but Desautels did not ask her for a doctor’s note and did not rely on other measures, like Plexiglas barriers and constant social distancing, to protect both her and customers.
Newport police and the AG’s office had warned him several times to comply with the emergency orders or face fines.
Desautels lost his UPS franchise on Feb. 17 after news broke that he was not following the mask mandate.
Donovan took Desautels to court.
Teachout issued a temporary restraining order on Feb. 23, requiring Desautels and his employee to follow the emergency orders in advance of a trial.
She conducted a preliminary hearing on March 5. The hearing continued on March 8 and was consolidated into a trial on the merits on the final day March 9.
At trial, both sides presented evidence and experts about the governor’s emergency orders.
In his motion for a new trial, Desautels said he was “stunned” that Bucknam had agreed to consolidate the preliminary hearing into a trial on the merits of the state’s lawsuit.
He said he didn’t know about his right to file counterclaims against the state or vet the state’s evidence and indicated his attorney was not prepared for the trial.
The court has yet to schedule a hearing on monetary damages.