• AG candidates face off
     | October 20,2012

    MONTPELIER — The major-party candidates for Vermont attorney general cross-examined each other in a debate Friday during which they had a chance to ask follow-up questions about each other’s statements and press for details.

    Republican candidate Jack McMullen suggested he’d take a nonactive approach toward federal legislation that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

    Progressive candidate Ed Stanak was pressed on how he could have the state pursue litigation against big banks and mortgage lenders when the attorney general’s office, which has nearly 80 lawyers, has only one lawyer in its antitrust unit.

    And Democratic incumbent William Sorrell again defended his investigations of police officer conduct and a super PAC helping his re-election efforts.

    The 2nd Circuit Court Appeals in New York this week struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, which defines a legal union as solely between a man and a woman. Sorrell had filed a “friend of the court” brief against the law.

    “As opposed to Bill Sorrell’s position, I would not take an active role in the defense of DOMA, but I think that should be sorted out at the elective level by representatives in the states and at the federal level,” McMullen said during the midday debate on Vermont Public Radio.

    McMullen said after the debate that his personal views would take a back seat to upholding the state’s laws supporting gay marriage.

    Sorrell challenged part of Stanak’s platform that calls for prosecuting big banks and mortgage lenders for possible violations ranging from fraud to negligent guidance. The incumbent asked where Stanak would get the personnel, noting that the California attorney general’s office has 35 staff addressing the issue.

    Stanak said other states should handle the investigation.

    “I say doing nothing is not an alternative,” Stanak said. “I think even if one of the banks was singled out here in Vermont, perhaps the one doing the most business, that would be a sign that it cannot happen here again.”

    Sorrell said Vermont and many other states are actively involved in an investigation on the issue, led by the New York and California attorneys general.

    Stanak added that the attorney general has a fiduciary responsibility at least involving the retirement funds of state employees, teachers and municipal employees. He said there has been no investigation related to the tens of millions of dollars that evaporated from those funds due to the 2008 financial crisis.

    Critics have said Sorrell has a different standard when investigating law enforcement to determine whether excessive force was used.

    Sorrell said he plans to recommend to the Legislature in January a proposal that will allow public access to records generated in investigations of law enforcement officers for on-duty conduct when no criminal charges are filed.

    He also said people are free to bring civil lawsuits against municipalities regarding police conduct.

    david.taube @timesargus.com

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