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Vermont State Courts

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Vermont Courts

Vermont runs a unified court system comprising the Supreme Court, the Superior Court, the Judicial Bureau, and the Environmental Court. Each of the 14 counties in Vermont has a civil, criminal, family, and probate division. The Environmental Division and Judicial Bureau both have statewide jurisdictions.

The current Vermont court system is the product of the 2010 restructuring of the Vermont judiciary, which unified the five other different courts into divisions of the Superior Court, setting the Supreme Court as the only appellate court and the highest court in Vermont. The state also hosts federal appellate courts, which hear appeals pertaining to federal cases within state limits. Only federal courts have jurisdiction over matters pertaining to federal law.

The State Court Administrator (SCA) is an administrative office that serves under the superintendence of the Supreme Court and provides leadership and support to court staff and judges. The SCA Office has four divisions:

  • Trial Court Operations
  • Research and Information Services
  • Planning and Court Services
  • Finance and Administrative Services

The Vermont court system i.e. the state's judicial branch, in collaboration with the executive and legislative branches, works to provide equal access to justice, protect individual rights, and resolve legal disputes promptly and fairly. Each state operates a clerical office that manages Vermont court records it generates.

What is the Vermont Supreme Court?

The Vermont Supreme Court is the state's highest court and the only appellate court. Hence, appeals from the civil, criminal, family, and environmental divisions of the Superior Courts are filed with the court. The Vermont Supreme Court hears appeals from some administrative agencies and the Probate Divisions of the Superior Court in cases relating to a question of law.

The Vermont Supreme Court does not take new evidence or exhibits in appeal proceedings. It only determines if the lower court judge correctly applied Vermont law to the facts of a case. The rulings of the court are final and can only be appealed to the United States Supreme Court in instances where a federal question is involved.

The Supreme Court oversees the administrative operations of the lower courts in the state and ensures the appropriate legal standards are maintained throughout the Vermont court system. The court also enforces discipline among judicial officers and attorneys as well as admitting attorneys into the practice of law in the state.

The Vermont Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and four associate justices all appointed by the Governor from a pool of candidates selected by the Judicial Nominating Board. The justices are appointed to renewable six-year terms. Cases in the Supreme Court are commonly decided by three of the five justices. To qualify for a judgeship position on the Vermont Supreme Court, a candidate must be an attorney who has practiced more than five of the previous ten years in Vermont and must not be older than the mandatory retirement age of 70 years. The Vermont Supreme Court handles approximately 500 filings and dispositions annually. The court is in Montpelier.

Vermont Superior Court

The Vermont Superior Court is the state's only trial court. It has 14 units, with one corresponding to each county of Vermont. In 2010, the Vermont judiciary reorganized the state's court system and collapsed the existing trial courts into divisions of the new Superior Court. These division are:

  • The Civil Division
  • The Criminal Division
  • The Family Division
  • The Probate Division
  • The Environmental Division

The Criminal and Civil Divisions hold jury trials, while no jury trials are held in the Environmental and Family Divisions.

Civil Division

The Civil Division of the Superior Court is where trials are held for civil matters. The court may hold jury trials, court trials, and pre-trial conferences. It handles cases relating to:

  • Consumer protection
  • Protection from stalkers and sexual assaulters
  • Eviction
  • Contract disputes
  • Foreclosure matters
  • Personal Injury matters
  • Medical malpractice and wrongful death cases
  • Land disputes
  • United States passport applications

The Civil Division is also empowered to hear appeals from the Probate Division and appeals of some governmental actions. It also has a Small Claims Court which handles disputes between individuals or businesses where the amount in controversy does not exceed $5,000. In the Small Claims Courts, litigants are allowed to represent themselves, thereby eliminating the requirement for the presence of an attorney during court proceedings.

In the Civil Division of the Superior Court, the decisions of the Superior Court Judges are centered around determining if a litigant should recompense the other party for an action or inaction, a party to a case should start or stay actions in certain ways, or a litigant should lose home or property for failure to pay their debts.

Over 5,000 actions are filed annually in the Civil Divisions of the Superior Courts in Vermont. Civil Divisions only have jurisdiction within the geographic area of location.

Criminal Division

Sometimes referred to as Criminal Courts, the Criminal Division of the Vermont Superior Court handles matters in which an individual has been accused by the State of Vermont of breaking state laws. The Criminal Division handles matters such as:

  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Approving and rejecting search and arrest warrants
  • Appeals of final decisions of the Judicial Bureau
  • Forfeiture proceedings
  • Fish and wildlife cases
  • License suspension hearings

The Criminal Division hears guilty pleas and holds jury and court trials. It handles adult drug, juvenile drug, mental health, and DUI cases through its special treatment courts.

Family Division

The Family Division of the Superior Courts hear cases of domestic issues and other legal matters relating to the family. The court's jurisdiction covers issues relating to:

  • Divorces and the dissolution of civil unions
  • Annulments
  • Enforcement of spousal support (alimony) and child support
  • Determining parentage of children, child custody and visitation, grandparents' visitation
  • Juvenile proceedings
  • Protective services for developmentally disabled persons
  • Mental health proceedings
  • Abuse prevention proceedings

To aid prompt and timely resolution of disputes in the Family Court, the Chief Superior Judge assigns Superior Judges, Child Support Magistrates, and Assistant Judges to support arbitration proceedings in the division.

Probate Division

The Probate Division of the Superior Court handles cases relating to:

  • Wills
  • Settlement of estates
  • Administration of trusts created by will
  • Trusts of absent person's estates
  • Charitable and philanthropic trusts
  • Removal and replacement of trustees of certain trusts,
  • The appointment of guardians, and of the powers, duties, and rights of guardians and wards
  • Relinquishments for adoption
  • Name changes and issuance of new birth certificates
  • Amendment of birth certificates
  • Correction or amendment of civil marriage certificates
  • Correction or amendment of death certificates
  • Emergency waiver of premarital medical certificates
  • Proceedings relating to cemetery lots
  • Trusts relating to community mausoleums or columbariums
  • Civil actions relating to disposition of remains
  • Proceedings relating to the conveyance of a homestead interest of a spouse under a legal disability
  • Issuance of certificates of public good authorizing the civil marriage of persons under 16 years of age
  • Appointment of administrators to discharge mortgages held by deceased mortgagees
  • Appointment of trustees for persons confined under sentences of imprisonment and
  • Setting compensation and expenses of boards of arbitrators of death taxes

There are 14 Probate Division Judges in Vermont, all elected to serve four-year terms. No jury trials are held in the Probate Courts.

Environmental Division

Environmental law matters in Vermont are handled by the Environmental Division of the Superior Court located in Chittenden County. Its statewide jurisdiction covers hearing and deciding appeals from:

  • Agency of Natural Resources and Natural Resources Board
  • Act 250 decisions
  • Municipal enforcement actions
  • Municipal zoning boards
  • Agency of Natural Resources and Natural Resources Board enforcement actions

Trials are held in the Environmental Division, but initial hearings may be conducted by telephone by one of the two environmental judges assigned to the Division. In situations where a courtroom hearing is necessary, Environmental Court judges usually travel to the location of the disputed property to conduct hearings using available courtrooms.

Vermont Judicial Bureau

The Judicial Bureau of Vermont generally handles cases relating to traffic offenses, violations of municipal ordinances, and civil violations. The Judicial Bureau has statewide jurisdiction and is located at White River Junction. Cases may be heard at this location or other courthouses in the state.

The Bureau's jurisdiction covers matters related to:

  • Fishing, hunting, and trapping
  • Animal cruelty
  • Burning and waste disposal
  • Alcohol and tobacco
  • Marijuana (non-criminal)
  • Illegal dumping
  • Unauthorized disclosure of criminal record information
  • Lead hazard in housing

What are Appeals and Court Limits in Vermont?

A party who has legal reasons to be dissatisfied with the outcome of a case in the trial court may file a petition to the appellate court for review of the ruling or judgment of the lower court. This entire process commencing with the filing of a notice of appeal is known as an appeal. Appeals of the decisions of Vermont Superior Courts are filed with the Vermont Supreme Court. The Supreme Court does not hold new trials or consider new evidence in an appeal. The Court reviews what occurred in the lower court or agency and determines if an error was made. Common errors claimed are:

  • That the lower court did not follow the correct procedures
  • The lower court did not apply the law correctly to the facts of the case

In appeal cases in Vermont, a notice of appeal must be filed with the Superior Court clerk within 30 days after entry of the judgment or order appealed from. However, in criminal cases, the State must file an appeal within seven business days after entry of the judgment or order. While in a criminal case resulting in a sentence of life imprisonment, where the defendant has not waived appeal, the state may file a notice of appeal within 30 days of the judgment entry date.

Vermont considers a notice of appeal filed after the Superior Court announces a decision, sentence, or order, but before the entry of the judgment or order as filed on the date the decision or sentence is entered. In instances where a case party files a timely notice of appeal, any other party may file a notice of appeal not later than 14 days after the date when the first notice was filed.

Vermont appellate procedures are contained in the Vermont Rules of Appellate Procedures (V.R.A.P.).

How Do I Find My Case Number in Vermont?

Case numbers are assigned to individual court cases for differentiation. No two court cases have the same case number. A case number typically bear characters that can help court record custodians identify specific information such as the year of filing, the case type, and the office where the record was filed. Interested persons can contact the clerk of court in the courthouse where a record was filed to obtain a case number. The clerk of court will ask for other case identifying information such as the year of filing, the type of case, and a case party name. There is a nominal fee attached to this service.

Interested persons can also find case numbers by using the VTCourtsOnline tool or the Vermont Judiciary Portal. By providing the name of a party involved in the case in question, case numbers can be obtained from the matching entry from the search results.

Does Vermont Hold Remote Trials?

Yes. Per a Supreme Court-issued Administrative Order, Vermont courts now operate differently than they were before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Many court hearings now hold remotely, meaning that some or all of the people required to participate in hearings do so by video or phone, including attorneys and judges. The most commonly used tool video conferencing tool in Vermont courts is WebEx.

Following the apex court's order for all state court hearings to be held remotely, a few exceptions were created. These include:

  • Jury trials
  • Criminal court or juvenile delinquency evidentiary matters
  • Criminal or juvenile delinquency matters where the defendant or juvenile's presence is required by law

Vermont allows members of the public to observe fully remote or partial remote hearings by requesting the court to livestream the proceedings. Requests must be made at least 24 hours before commencement of hearing and emailed to Any such request must include the court location, hearing date, hearing time, names of the parties to the case, and the case number. The Vermont judiciary provides guidelines for participating in remote hearings on its website.