By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDELBURY â€” One experienced attorney is replacing another at the helm of the Addison County Public Defenderâ€™s office.
Officially taking the reins this month is longtime Chittenden County Public Defender Jerry Schwarz. He replaces Addison County Public Defender Lorin Duckman, whom Vermont Defender General Matt Valerio has promoted to a position through which he will deal with serious felony cases throughout the state.
Schwarz, 53, graduated from the University of Floridaâ€™s College of Law in 1976. He immediately took a job as an assistant public defender in West Palm Beach, Fla., specializing in death penalty law.
By 1982, he was ready for a move to New England. His ticket came in the form of a job offer from the Chittenden County Public Defenderâ€™s Office, where he served until transferring to the Addison County office in January. At the time of his transfer, Schwarz was manager of the Chittenden County office, staffed by 10 attorneys, three full-time investigators and two secretaries.
The stateâ€™s public defender offices provide legal defense services for defendants in criminal cases who cannot afford to hire private lawyers.
Schwarz first joined the Addison County office on an interim basis in January to fill in for Duckman, who took a medical leave of absence. His appointment recently became official.
In Addison County, Schwarz will be flying solo, with some secretarial support. But that doesnâ€™t bother Schwarz one bit. Largely unfettered by managerial responsibilities, Schwarz will now be able to immerse himself more fully into representing his clients.
â€œI was actually very excited about the change,â€? said Schwarz, a Charlotte resident. â€œIt allows me to do the same thing in a different setting, in a slightly different way.â€?
With a few months under his belt, Schwarz has already gotten a feel for what he will face as Addison County public defender.
â€œItâ€™s very much a smaller version of what weâ€™re seeing in Burlington,â€? Schwarz said. â€œThe caseload is steady. Weâ€™re seeing the same growth in drug-related crime.â€?
Like Duckman, Schwarz believes Addison County â€” and the state, in general â€” needs to take a more proactive approach in dealing with drug offenders.
â€œWe need to put more money into treatment and prevention, rather than punishment,â€? Schwarz said. â€œThere have got to be more treatment options.â€?
Though he is the new face in the office, Schwarz has already settled in quite nicely.
â€œBeing fairly experienced, Iâ€™ve been able to hit the ground running,â€? Schwarz said.
â€œItâ€™s been a seamless transfer,â€? Duckman agreed.
Duckman will maintain an office in the Addison County Public Defenderâ€™s Office, but he will be roaming to courthouses statewide in his new job. As part of the Vermont Defender Generalâ€™s Serious Felony Unit, Duckman will put his extensive legal experience to work on more complex criminal cases that county public defenders have been hard-pressed to handle while simultaneously juggling substantial caseloads.
â€œThe goal is to get the most experienced lawyers in as soon as possible,â€? Duckman said.
Like Schwarz, Duckman has more than 30 years of experience in the legal profession. After graduating from New York Law School in 1974, he embarked on a legal career that has included stints as a prosecutor, defense attorney, law clerk, adjunct law professor and a New York City judge. He joined the Rutland County Public Defenderâ€™s Office in 2001, and came to the Addison County office in 2003.
Schwarz said he will appreciate having Duckman in the office to compare notes on cases.
â€œItâ€™s nice to have more than one attorney in a setting,â€? Schwarz said.