The state attorney general’s office has opened an investigation into criminal complaints against a prominent champion of Vermonters who are adversely affected by renewable development.
The attorney general’s office is investigating whether Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, has practiced law without a license — a charge with penalties left entirely to the court’s discretion.
Smith says the complaints that prompted the AG’s investigation are politically motivated.
Attorneys who have argued against Smith’s clients say she gives bad advice, unconstrained by the sanctions licensed attorneys would incur for similar behavior.
Smith says the AG’s investigation “is very intimidating.”
“I don’t know what to do. I think our work’s being shut down,” Smith said. “I believe this has the potential to shut down my organization of 16 years. It clearly falls under the definition of harassment.”
Residents who live near planned and existing renewable projects have claimed she’s their only advocate.
Smith said she represents people who too frequently have nowhere else to turn. Renewable energy developers hire talented attorneys against whom landowners near project sites have no other way of successfully representing themselves.
Many of these cases involve people who can’t afford a lawyer, and who didn’t want to become involved in legal proceedings to protect their interests, she said. Lawyers know it’s impossible to fight renewable energy developers, Smith said, and won’t take on affected landowners’ cases anyway.
“Anybody who does this with a lawyer has wasted tens of thousands of dollars,” she said.