[Hpn] Addison county senator defendant in suit with renters;News Column;BFP;9/25/02

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Wed, 25 Sep 2002 11:25:28 -0400


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Wednesday, September 25, 2002
Burlington Free Press <http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com>
[Burlington, Vermont]
Opinion section: Columnists
News Column
by Sam Hemingway
Addison senator is defendant in suit with renters
<http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/Columnists/Sam/0925044104.htm>


State Sen. Tom Bahre, R-Addison, has had some tough re-election campaigns 
over his 12 years in office, but he's won every one of them.

This year could be different.

Besides facing two well-liked Democrats in November, including incumbent 
Sen. Gerry Gossens, D-Addison, Bahre is a defendant in a 2-year-old lawsuit 
alleging he rented a rundown former chicken coop in Starksboro to a family 
with physical and mental disabilities.

In an example of exquisite bad timing for Bahre, the Addison County Superior 
Court trial on those allegations begins this morning in Middlebury.

"We asked the judge to see if the trial could be postponed, but the answer 
was no," said Bahre's lawyer, Christopher Roy.

What the jury -- and ultimately the voters of Addison County -- will hear 
about Bahre in the next few days isn't going to be pretty.

According to court papers, Starksboro's health officer discovered raw sewage 
flowing from the home's septic system in 1998 while it was being rented to 
the family of Stewart Culver.

The septic system was later revealed to be a 55-gallon drum sitting in the 
back of the home. That was fixed, but other health and safety violations 
were identified, the court documents said.

Bahre also was accused of personally harassing the Culvers and dumping so 
much chlorine in the water system to purify it that the Culvers had to be 
treated at a hospital for exposure to chlorine fumes.

According to court papers, Bahre acted as landlord on behalf of his adult 
children, who own the Starksboro property.

Bahre, during a break from his campaigning Tuesday, declined comment on the 
case and, as he has in the past, referred questions to his lawyer.

"This is very difficult for him," Roy said. "His integrity has been called 
into question."

That's not just rhetoric. Bahre's defense will be that the tenants are to 
blame for many of the problems with the home and that the Legal Aid lawyers 
who filed the case on the Culvers' behalf did so to embarrass him 
politically.

"The house was a mess," Roy said. "The people there lived a very cluttered 
life ... the junk was so piled up you couldn't see the structural issues."

He said Bahre allowed those conditions to exist because he was reluctant to 
pass judgment on the Culvers' lifestyle.

Gregg Meyer, representing Legal Aid, declined comment on the case and the 
Culvers have no listed phone number.

In a sense, Bahre's fight really isn't with the Culvers. The Culvers have 
moved on, and the Starksboro site is being sold.

Roy is likely to argue the whole case could have been avoided had housing 
advocates and Legal Aid not been so invested in pursuing Bahre because of 
who he is.

"Things got very adversarial and involved Legal Aid before anyone engaged 
Tom in any dialogue," Roy said.

Perhaps, but the risk for Bahre is that he'll come across to the jury and 
the voters as a landlord who, instead of getting the message, attacks the 
messenger.

A lot more is riding on the outcome of this case than just Bahre's own 
political future.

Republicans need Bahre to win in November if they're going to have any 
chance of capturing control of the state Senate for the first time since 
1994.

Conversely, Democrats have a good shot at holding on to the Senate if the 
case goes badly for Bahre and newcomer Claire Ayer of Addison does well at 
the polls.

Opening arguments in Culver versus Bahre begin at 10 a.m.


Sam Hemingway is the Free Press state news columnist. His columns appear 
Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. If you have a comment or tip, phone 660-1850, 
or e-mail shemingway@bfp.burlington freepress.com.

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Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA


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