State will pay court protester $200,000
By Alan J. Keays
Herald Staff | December 20,2005
BRATTLEBORO — The state will pay $200,000 to a former Bennington man to settle a lawsuit alleging that Vermont officials violated the U.S. Constitution by barring him from a Rutland courthouse.
"The government has to observe the Bill of Rights more carefully before acting without thinking," Scott Huminski, 46, said Monday of the settlement his attorneys have reached with the state in his legal battle that has goes back more than five years.
Huminski had traveled from his home in North Carolina to attend a scheduled hearing Monday in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro.
Joseph Winn, an assistant state attorney general, represented Karen Predom, the former Rutland District Court manager.
A trespass notice was issued against Huminski when court officials in May 1999 became concerned he might be planning violence outside the courthouse during one of his one-man protests against the state judicial system.
Predom was among several defendants named in a federal lawsuit filed by Huminski, and one of only two people left as defendants following many court rulings over the years.
"The settlement hasn't been totally finalized. There are still some original documents for him to sign off on, but yes, we have settled," Winn said Monday night.
In addition to the $200,000, the settlement that dismisses the case against Predom includes an agreement that the trespass notices originally issued to Huminski more than five years ago would not be enforced.
"And no future notices would be issued unless there was some disruption to court proceedings or some threat to personal property," Winn said.
Winn said that an earlier ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City led to the state settling the case.
"The 2nd Circuit essentially entered judgment against Ms. Predom, and given that, it was just a matter of the attorneys' fee that would need to be settled after that. In terms of fees, they had already accumulated a significant amount," Winn said. "If we had gone to trial and had a judgment entered against us it would have been considerably more than $200,000."
Robert Corn-Revere, a Washington lawyer who specializes in First Amendment cases, represents Huminski. Corn-Revere said Monday the $200,000 settlement represented a compromise between his client and the state.
Beyond the dollar amount, the settlement represented something else, the attorney said.
"The message is that state officials shouldn't violate the Constitution," Corn-Revere said.
Huminski, now living in North Carolina and working at a home improvement store, declined to reveal how much of the $200,000 would be used to pay attorney fees.
"That's a private matter," he said.
Huminski, a self-described "court reporter" and "defender of justice," is a longtime outspoken critic of the Vermont justice system and became quite upset by what he thought was mistreatment by Vermont judges.
He particularly became infuriated with Judge Nancy Corsones regarding a criminal proceeding against him in 1997.
He even ran against Bennington State's Attorney William Wright in 2002, campaigning on an "anti-corruption" platform.
Huminski was thrown off the property of Rutland District Court in May 1999 after plastering his van with signs critical of a judge presiding that day. "Judge Corsones: Butcher of the Constitution," read a sign posted on the side of his van in the Rutland courthouse parking lot.
Earlier, Corsones and other officials received letters of outrage from Huminski concerning her handling of a criminal case he had in Bennington County when she was a presiding judge there.
"As it is the policy of the state of Vermont to encourage and allow crimes to be committed against myself and my wife without fear of prosecution, I must take the law into my own hands and initiate activities that will get national media attention," Huminski wrote in one letter. "When the smoke clears, the nation will wonder what went wrong in Vermont."
Corsones and other courthouse officials became concerned over what Huminski might have been planning when he appeared in the court parking lot in May 1999. Another judge issued a no-trespass order against Huminski, which barred him from state courthouses and their grounds across Vermont.
Huminki then sued in federal court, alleging violations of his Constutional rights, setting off a legal dispute that has spanned several years and leading to a recently negotiated settlement with the state.
In October, federal Judge J. Garvan Murtha granted summary judgment in Huminski's favor on his freedom of expression claim against Predom, who was Rutland District Court manager at the time of the incident, and R.J. Elrick, then Rutland County sheriff.
The only matter left was to determine the matter of damages.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City had earlier ruled that Predom, Elrick, Corsones and the judge who issued the no-trespass order, Patricia Zimmerman, violated Huminski's rights.
"There are facts on the record that might raise the concern that Huminski was, at least in part, being punished for his political protests, or being prevented from continuing them" by his exclusion from court property, the court said.
However, the judges were immune from paying damages in the case, the appeals court ruled, arguing that judges need to be able to protect themselves from unhappy defendants.
The appeals court's ruling effectively left Elrick and Predom as the remaining defendants, with the only matter to be decided the amount of damages to be awarded to Huminski.
Now, Elrick is the only remaining defendant, and jury selection is set for next month for a trial to determine how much, if any, damages would be paid out to Huminski.
A hearing in the case was set for Monday in federal court in Brattleboro. Attorneys for Huminski and Elrick met in Murtha's chambers and then the emerged to go to another private room to discuss a possible settlement.
The two sides talked for about 20 minutes without reaching an agreement on the Elrick case and the matter is still set for a trial on damages.
Contact Alan J. Keays at email@example.com.