The Foreclosure Next Door: Occupy Guildhall?

Guildhall Home, Foreclosed Since 2009

This is the foreclosed home in our tiny, otherwise picturesque village of Guildhall, Vermont. These days, I regularly find myself wondering if maybe it’s a suitable location for our own Occupy Guildhall  encampment.

After all, the house has been sitting empty and forlorn for over two years, grossly neglected by whatever distant lending companies now own it, a blight on our neighborhood. It’s become our own local symbol of the destructive, pointless power that a small minority holds over regular people and how that power can destroy or at least seriously undermine livelihoods, relationships, dreams and entire neighborhoods.

The house, a historic structure, sits one lot away from our house, nestled comfortably between the banks of the beautiful Connecticut River on one side and on the other, the Public Library and Masonic Hall.

Back of the Foreclosed House, with Swing, Dog Pen

From my kitchen window, where I’m washing dishes or baking bread, or just taking a break from writing some legal document, I can see the back of the foreclosed property, including an old swing that hangs somewhat mournfully from a maple tree and the large pen where the former owners’ dogs used to run and play. On another side of the house, I can see the blueberry bushes that the former owners once lovingly planted.

Closer up and sadder

Like all foreclosures, this one has a story behind it. I need not mention names, but the people against whom the bank foreclosed had come to be our friends. They bought the house in 2006 and had their wedding right there in the back yard. Less than 3 years later, they were divorced. Divorce in America typically tends to be a financial disaster for one or both spouses. In this case, neither spouse could swing the mortgage payments on their own. The wife moved to neighboring Lunenburg, where she rents with a friend and struggles to complete her nursing degree while working full time.

The husband, just before the divorce happened, was laid off from his job. He happily found someone new to love and fortunately, that new partner had some means. Together, they moved far away indeed: to a Central American country. At least he’s out of the reach of the creditors.

Meanwhile, the house sits empty, unkempt and steadily deteriorating. Last summer, we noticed that someone came by once a month or so to mow the lawn. No one has cleaned up the mess inside or bothered with any exterior upkeep or maintenance. As far as I can tell, whatever lending company owns the damn thing now doesn’t give a fig about trying to market or sell it. The house appears on no listings that I can find, and there’s no sign posted out front.

It would be nice to have the house occupied, but during the foreclosure process, the finance company specifically refused the wife’s repeated requests to re-negotiate the terms of the mortgage payments.

The result? The lending company gets nothing and in fact takes a loss, because they keep having to pay the taxes and water bills. The wife, who was well-liked and actively engaged in town government was forced from her home and her town. I and the other village residents have lost our neighbor and every day must look at the failing house–and alternately feel sad or wonder how it all affects our own property values. I somehow doubt that this beautiful historic home will ever be sold or even inhabited again.

You couldn’t ask for a better illustration of the utterly pointless carnage wreaked on our society by the greedy corporations and lenders. Indeed, maybe it’s time to Occupy Guildhall, right next door.

Some Disheartening News: Elements Food and Spirit to Close (Unless…)

Elements. Known around these parts as the best restaurant in the entire Northeast Kingdom. Possibly among the best in the state of Vermont. A remarkable restaurant where I’ve never had a bad meal, and where I always want to have dessert. Since I’ve lived in the NEK, Elements has always been a touchstone for me, a reminder that superb food, wine, service and live music are just a short drive away. (Well, fairly short–about forty minutes.)

I’ve just gotten word that Elements is closing. No. No. No. But yes, it’s true. On January 1. Unless some buyer surfaces between now and the New Year, Elements will be a thing of the past.

Ouch. Not good for the NEK. Not one bit.

So I’m putting out the word to any interested buyers/investors out there. Come take a look at Elements! In the words of Florence and Keith Chamberlin, Elements owners and managers: “We are keeping the door open a crack, however. We believe there is tremendous opportunity in this place—be it the continued home for Elements, as a different restaurant or bar, or for any number of other ventures. If a buyer or buyers present themselves before the 31st we will be happy to talk with them about keeping this space and Elements a vital and exciting part of the dining scene in the Northeast Kingdom.”

Visit Elements’ website now!

Sonia Sotomayor: A U.S. Supreme Court Justice Comes to Vermont

Sonia Sotomayor in Randolph

Thanks to Senator Patrick Leahy’s office, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to Randolph, Vermont this past weekend. She was the keynote speaker at the 15th Annual Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference, held at Vermont Technical College.

The hall was packed with women–and a few men–eager to hear her speak, but really, she behaved as if she was sitting in my living room. She refused to use the podium, instead sitting on a chair close to the edge of the stage, using a hand-held microphone. And she took the opportunity to talk about her education, career, ambitions and dreams.

I didn’t learn much new information about Justice Sotomayor–after all, between her confirmation hearings and the many publicized appearances she makes, I’ve come to know most of the interesting facts of her life and career. But that didn’t seem to matter much. It was just a remarkable thing to sit in the same room with her and feel like she was talking directly to me, the fledgling attorney!

At the Vermont Supreme Court: Laura is Admitted to the Practice of Law

Laura, with my certificate of admission, about thirty minutes after taking the oath

Yesterday, December 7, at approximately 10:20 am, I stood before the five Justices of the Vermont Supreme Court, raised my right hand and took an oath to support, protect and defend the United States and Vermont Constitutions.

me, seated in the courtroom (in black, with white collar) waiting for the ceremony to begin

It was a heady moment for me and the other 50 new attorneys taking that oath. I think it will take a few days for the reality to sink in: after four years of study, apprenticeship and other forms of agony, I now have a license to practice law in the most civilized state in the union!

Michael Marks, of the Vt Board of Bar Examiners, makes a motion to admit me and 49 other new attorneys to the practice of law in Vermont

That morning, the would-be attorneys gathered in the basement of the Vermont Supreme Court building to register, receive our licenses and certificates, and get organized. As the time approached, we were asked to line up alphabetically–it was a testament to our nerves, I suspect, that in spite of all our fancy educations, it proved strangely difficult to accomplish that basic task.

New Justice The Honorable Beth Robinson!

Then, a hush fell over us as we walked upstairs to the historic court room. (I ended up with the best seat in the house–right in the front row–as I was last alphabetically, but we had come in reverse order!)

me, with my admission certificate

The court room was packed, to standing room only, with the family and friends of those taking the oath. In one corner was Edward, my mom, and friends from my little town of Guildhall. In another corner were a couple of my Act 250 colleagues. Among the crowd in the third corner was the fantastic criminal defense attorney David Williams, my mentor and colleague over the last three years with his wife Karen Andresen.

after the swearing in, with my mother Altina Waller and my partner Edward Clark

I couldn’t help but get a shiver down my spine when I took the oath to protect and defend the Constitution. And I couldn’t help but reflect on other interesting matters. For example, directly before me was Marilyn Skoglund, a Vermont Supreme Court justice who took the same path to the practice of law as I have: she did the Vermont Four Year Clerkship! (I am the only person sworn in yesterday who is a clerkship graduate!)

Even more interesting, and frankly moving, was the presence of the Court’s newest Associate Justice, the Honorable Beth Robinson. Justice Robinson has a long history as a tireless activist for civil unions and marriage equality in Vermont. When Governor Peter Shumlin took office last year, he appointed Beth Robinson as Governor’s Counsel, and this year, when Justice Denise Johnson retired, Shumlin took the fabulous and historic step of appointing Robinson to the Supreme Court. Just a week earlier, in this same room, she had been sworn in to the Court. And there she was, sitting before me. (Later, in the anteroom reception, we had a chance to talk briefly.)

From there, we moved on to a celebratory lunch, with champagne at NECI on Main. I’m grateful for all the friends and family who were there with me today.

Post Swearing In Lunch at NECI on Main, me with Karen Andresen, my mother Altina Waller, Lj Holland and George Blakeslee