NEWPORT CITY — Newport business owner Andre Desautels, “stunned” by what happened in court, wants another trial in his fight against Vermont’s mask mandate during the pandemic.
Desautels has fired his attorney, Deborah Bucknam of St. Johnsbury, and hired Robert Kaplan to challenge the Vermont Attorney General over a demand that he wear masks in his Main Street print shop.
Judge Mary Miles Teachout on March 12 ordered Desautels to comply with Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s emergency orders. Teachout conducted a three-day hearing in early March that turned into a final trial and granted a permanent injunction against Desautels as requested by Vermont’s attorney general.
A hearing on potential fines is pending.
Late last week, Kaplan filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Desautels and his business HNR Desautels LLC. The motion and supporting affidavit detail a litany of complaints about how Bucknam handled the case.
Desautels operated The UPS Store, now called Derby Port Press, 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.
Attorney General T.J. Donovan took Desautels to court.
Teachout issued a preliminary injunction on Feb. 20 ordering Desautels and his employee to follow the emergency orders.
She conducted a preliminary hearing on March 5, which was consolidated into a trial on March 8 and 9.
In an affidavit filed Thursday with the court, Desautels said he did not give Bucknam permission to agree to conclude the case so quickly.
“I experienced difficulty in finding an attorney in my area who would represent me competently in this action,” Desautels said.
Desautels hired Bucknam on Feb. 26, a week before the hearing began.
“I did not authorize Attorney Bucknam to agree to waive counterclaims and discovery and to conduct the trial in this case 10 days after I was first served with the complaint,” Desautels wrote in the affidavit.
“I would not have agreed to give up my rights to counterclaims, civil discovery, or a trial for which I and my counsel are well prepared.
“I was stunned during the hearing when I heard Attorney Bucknam agree to waive a trial on the merits and consolidate the trial with the preliminary injunction hearing.
“I strongly wish to vigorously contest the state’s claims against me and to prevail in this action at a trial after adequate preparation,” Desautels concluded.
In the motion for a new trial, Kaplan says Desautels and HNR Desautels LLC want the judge to set aside her permanent injunction and return the case to a traditionally longer schedule.
He also asked the judge to “take such further action as warranted in the interest of fairness and justice.”
Kaplan wrote that Bucknam did not talk with Desautels about a pre-trial strategy of discovery to find out the state’s evidence “or adequately prepare for a trial.”
Kaplan wrote that Desautels did not expect the hearing on the preliminary injunction to “be a substantive trial on the merits of this action.”
Bucknam, Kaplan wrote, exceeded her authority by agreeing to consolidate the preliminary hearing with the ultimate trial in the case.
“Defendants intended to vigorously oppose the allegations in the state’s complaint. Little preparation was done for the hearing and defendants were completely unaware of the available options under the Civil Discovery Rules to discover and vet the state’s evidence prior to a trial.
“Similarly, defendants had no time to contemplate or seek out experts of acceptable stature and background to present defendants’ case,” according to the motion.
Bucknam said she couldn’t comment. “Since Mike has a new attorney, I am not authorized to comment on any issue in this case,” she said.
Donovan also had no comment.
The judge will hold a status conference in the case on April 29.