[Hpn] Addison county senator defendant in suit with renters;News Column;BFP;9/25/02
Morgan W. Brown
Wed, 25 Sep 2002 11:25:28 -0400
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
Burlington Free Press <http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com>
Opinion section: Columnists
by Sam Hemingway
Addison senator is defendant in suit with renters
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
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
"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
A lot more is riding on the outcome of this case than just Bahre's own
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org freepress.com.
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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