Elected in 2006, TJ has led the office of Chittenden County State’s Attorney in enhancing public safety. He created and implemented innovative approaches to criminal justice. For violent offenders, TJ has aggressively pursued and punished those that prey on the community, obtaining high profile convictions, including the murder convictions of Brian Rooney, Christopher Williams, Gerald Montgomery, Timothy Dowd and a manslaughter conviction of Michael Lewis, all violent criminals who posed a threat to Vermont’s communities. Throughout his career as a prosecutor TJ has been involved in every aspect of the prosecutorial process from evaluating decisions to prosecute to personally trying cases to verdict.
While TJ works tirelessly to prosecute those who pose a direct threat to public safety, he has also sought to root out the causes of criminality, focusing on prevention as the best way to keep Vermonters safe. His efforts include advocating for treatment on demand for drug addiction; alternatives to incarceration; vigorous enforcement with meaningful intervention; and effective prevention strategies. He believes that a good job is the best form of public safety.
TJ takes a collaborative approach to prosecutions, enhancing communication among state, federal, local prosecution as a way to deliver better public safety services.
Criminal Justice Reform
Victim rights and services have been the principal focus of TJ’s approach to prosecution, believing that the goal of the criminal justice system is to provide safety and security to the community and repair the harm done to victims so far as that is possible. With this as the touchstone of his approach, TJ has worked to develop processes that not only deliver justice to victims, but also provide the greatest chance that offenders will not repeat the behaviors that have negative impacts on the community.
TJ is committed to advancing innovative approaches to solve difficult Criminal Justice issues. He is acutely aware both of his obligation to protect Vermonters from predators, and of the power of the criminal justice system to marginalize people who have made a serious mistake but should not be subject to a life sentence outside society. When dealing with lesser violations of the criminal justice system, TJ has worked hard to emphasize the reform goals of criminal justice in order to mitigate and minimize the traditional emphasis on the punitive aspects of the criminal justice system to make the system work for both the victim and the offender.
TJ recognizes that collective public safety is enhanced by giving people opportunities to succeed and be productive citizens. This goal requires changing the culture of the criminal justice system. TJ believes in restorative justice and alternatives to incarceration as common sense alternatives to prevent the further deterioration of a person’s ability to function as a productive member of our society. He led the effort to create an integrated system of public health and public safety by advocating for increased treatment capacity for addiction including pushing for more medical providers to become involved in reducing the impact of heroin abuse.
TJ has successfully advocated for a variety of innovative criminal justice policies including universal access to naloxone treatment; decriminalization of marijuana; the broadest Good Samaritan law in the country for people involved in overdose cases that call 911; increased access to medication assisted treatment; “ban the box” legislation; and greater access to needle exchanges. All of these programs have helped reduce the harm caused by criminal activity. TJ Donovan was among the first public officials in Vermont to focus his public advocacy on the scourge of heroin addiction in Vermont and his efforts have pushed the state to dedicate resources to address this issue.
Another concrete example of TJ’s practical approach to criminal justice is his development of the Rapid Intervention Community Court (“RICC”), an award-winning criminal justice program available to non-violent offenders whose crimes are driven by addiction or mental illness. In appropriate cases, the RICC program offers people arrested an opportunity for diversion prior to a charge ever being filed. This pre-charge diversion program is among the most forward thinking of its kind in the country. This program has also been effective in saving tax dollars, reducing recidivism and directing appropriate resources to the root of the underlying problems of addiction, mental health and poverty that too often lead to criminal behavior.
TJ has recognized that many minor criminal violations can be driven by the pressures of poverty. One example is the competition between the need to care for a child or travel to a job to put food on the table and legal injunctions limiting people’s driving privileges which are often handed down for non-violent offenses. The reality in Vermont is that the ability to drive a car is often a critical necessity in the fight for survival. In light of this economic reality, TJ led an effort to restore people’s driving privileges by addressing the barrier of people’s inability to pay outstanding fines. On March 20, 2015 over 1200 Vermonters appeared at the Chittenden Superior Court in an effort to comply with the law and restore their driving privileges by paying back their outstanding debts, at an affordable rate.
This “smart-on-crime” approach allowed Vermonters to commute to their jobs and to resolve their issues by escaping the continuing spiral of violations and fines they had no reasonable prospect of paying. This effort affected five counties across Vermont and was replicated in Windsor County. As a result of these successes, the Vermont legislature is currently considering legislation to reform the suspended license system in Vermont by adopting a program similar to TJ’s Driver Restoration Day.
TJ serves as Co-Chair of the Governor’ Criminal Justice and Substance Abuse Cabinet. He also serves on a variety of nonprofit boards including: Lund Center; Howard Center; and Mercy Connections. He is a founding member of the national criminal justice reform organization, Law Enforcement Leaders and has served on the Executive Committee member of the Department of State’s Attorneys. Over the last few years TJ has received a variety of awards including:
Irish Echo Law and Order Award (2016);
David W. Curtis Leadership Award, Vermont Democratic Party (2015);
Jack Hickey Award, Dismas House (2015); and
Turning Point Circle of Stars Award (2014);
Most importantly he has served as an Assistant Coach for the South Burlington Youth Baseball League.
Throughout TJ’s career he has committed himself to transparency in Government. If elected Attorney General TJ will continue his commitment to transparency and one of this first acts will be to implement an independent panel to review litigation contracts with outside law firms.
Independent Panel for Litigation Contracts
In order to provide transparency to the public and encourage the careful screening of any conflicts of interests, TJ will establish a review panel to make recommendations to the Attorney General regarding the award of litigation contracts to outside entities. The citizens of Vermont should have complete faith that their interests are being represented by the best legal talent available and that the best interests of Vermonters alone will be the reason Vermont hires outside attorneys to litigate on the State’s behalf.
Litigation Contracts Panel Composition
There will be three members on this panel:
- The Executive Director of the Vermont Bar Association or a designee;
- A designee of the Attorney General; and
- A designee of the Governor.
Appointments will be for 1-year terms with the possibility of reappointment at the end of each term.
Focus and Powers of the Litigation Contracts Panel
The panel will review contract bids to evaluate any known conflicts of interest that may exist between the Attorney General’s Office or other state officers and the entities applying to represent the State in litigation. The panel will review the qualifications of the applicants soliciting the State’s business and determine if it appears the applying entities possess the skills required to represent the State in the proposed matters. The panel will have full access to campaign contribution information and other lobbying affiliations of the prospective contractors and will be tasked with evaluating this and any other information that may bear on conflicts of interest attaching to the applicant and any state office holder or employee.
This panel will meet when necessary to review bids for litigation services submitted by entities outside of Vermont state government.
The panel will make public reports to the Attorney General regarding any potential conflicts of interest connected to an applicant for litigation contracts and may make any recommendations it believes should be considered in connection with determining the award for any proposed litigation contracts. The Attorney General will retain the discretion to award all contracts within the authority of the Attorney General but, in any case where the decision to award a contract is contrary to the recommendation of the panel, the Attorney General will provide a public written statement describing the reasons for rejecting the recommendation of the panel.