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State v. Zorn

Supreme Court of Vermont

August 9, 2013

State of Vermont
Robert E. Zorn

Supreme Court On Appeal from Superior Court, Rutland Unit, Criminal Division January Term, 2013 Mary Miles Teachout, J.

Marc D. Brierre, Rutland County State’s Attorney, Rutland, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Matthew F. Valerio, Defender General, Anna Saxman, Deputy Defender General and Joshua S. O’Hara, Appellate Defender, Montpelier, for Defendant-Appellant.

PRESENT: Dooley, Burgess and Robinson, JJ., and Bent, Supr, J. and Johnson, J. (Ret.), Specially Assigned


¶ 1.Defendant Robert E. Zorn appeals the superior court’s order involuntarily hospitalizing him for a period of ninety days pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 4822. [1] Defendant first contends that the hospitalization order was improper because there was insufficient evidence to establish that he was a person in need of treatment as defined under 18 V.S.A. § 7101(17). Specifically, defendant argues that the trial court lacked substantial evidence of a causal connection between his delusional disorder and the risk of harm he posed to others. Second, defendant argues that Judge Teachout should have disqualified herself from the hospitalization hearing because her ruling swept her into the class of people she found to be in reasonable fear of harm as a result of defendant’s mental illness. We affirm.

¶ 2. On March 31, 2011, defendant was charged with one count of simple assault and one count of resisting arrest. The State alleged that on March 30, 2011, defendant went uninvited to attorney Herbert Ogden’s office in Danby. Attorney Ogden represents defendant’s brothers in a contested estate matter against defendant. Defendant demanded that attorney Ogden pay defendant money that he alleged that attorney Ogden owed him. Not obtaining immediate satisfaction, defendant punched attorney Ogden in the jaw and attempted to hold his arms behind his back and place him under arrest. After repeatedly being told to leave by attorney Ogden, defendant ultimately left the office.

¶ 3. After defendant left, attorney Ogden complained to the police, and two Vermont State Police Troopers responded and obtained a sworn written statement from him. Based on the statement, the troopers located defendant and stopped him while he was driving his car. Defendant immediately stepped out of his vehicle and proceeded to walk in the direction of the police vehicle. After disregarding the troopers’ multiple commands to return to his vehicle or get on his knees, defendant stated that he could not get on his knees and sat on his rear. The troopers then commanded that defendant lie down on his stomach and put his hands out on his side, and defendant once again failed to comply with their directions. Consequently, one of the troopers deployed his taser. The trooper was then able to secure defendant’s hands and take him into custody.

¶ 4. The troopers found two rifles with clips and ammunition in defendant’s vehicle. After the traffic stop, defendant advised that he was having neck and knee pains from a preexisting injury. An ambulance was contacted, and defendant was transported to the Rutland Regional Medical Center. Defendant was subsequently evaluated at the hospital and released into State Police custody.

¶ 5. The next day, March 31, 2011, defendant was arraigned before a superior judge on one count of simple assault and resisting arrest. During the arraignment, a social worker who had screened defendant that day testified that, in her opinion, defendant was a person in need of treatment and recommended that he have an inpatient evaluation at the Vermont State Hospital. At the conclusion of the arraignment, the judge ordered, pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 4815(g), an inpatient competency evaluation of defendant.

¶ 6. Dr. Paul Cotton, a forensic psychiatrist, examined defendant at the Vermont State Hospital on April 6, 2011, and determined that he was incompetent to stand trial and insane at the time of the offense. The doctor put his findings into a formal report that day. At a bail review hearing on April 15, 2011, the court, relying on Dr. Cotton’s report, set the matter for a competency hearing.

¶ 7. Dr. Cotton’s April 6, 2011 report, which formed the basis for the court’s decision at the competency hearing, diagnosed defendant with a psychotic disorder characterized by delusional belief and disorganized thought processing and found him mentally incompetent to stand trial. The report observed that defendant’s delusional beliefs focused on a wide range of persons who defendant believes are conspiring against him. During his evaluation, defendant described his belief that his brothers and attorney Ogden, with the help of the superior judge who was presiding over the probate matter, falsified records and forged his mother’s will. Additionally, defendant claimed that the State had “illegally seized” his mother and taken her off life support, leading to her death. Defendant also believed that Dr. Cotton was unfit to perform the examination because defendant was suing officers of the State and Dr. Cotton was reimbursed by the State. The report further noted that State Hospital records indicated that defendant has long believed that the State is systematically persecuting him. Accordingly, Dr. Cotton determined that defendant was not mentally competent to stand trial because he lacked a sufficient rational understanding of the legal proceedings and would not be able to consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.

¶ 8. At the competency hearing on June 12, 2011, the trial court agreed with Dr. Cotton’s findings that defendant was not mentally competent to stand trial. The court found that defendant lacked a rational understanding of the proceedings against him and that defendant’s ability to consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding would be impaired because of defendant’s preoccupation with his persistent delusional beliefs. The court set the matter for a hospitalization hearing. [2]

¶ 9. After learning that Judge Mary Teachout would be presiding over defendant’s case, defendant moved on December 14, 2011 to recuse her because she was named as a defendant in a civil suit defendant had filed in federal court. [3] Administrative Judge Amy Davenport denied defendant’s motion because he ...

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