Legal Ethics

Vermont Lawyer Criticized for Lifting Language from Utility Filing

The top lawyer for the Vermont Public Service Department is being criticized for copying long passages from utility company documents for her own filing with the Public Service Board.

More than two pages of the six-page motion for summary judgment filed by government lawyer Sarah Hofmann were “word-for-word identical” to a January filing by a lawyer representing the Vermont utilities, the Associated Press reports. Both lawyers oppose a proposal to reduce electric rates for low-income residents, partly because it would shift costs to other customers.

AARP is citing the copying as evidence that the Public Service Department is too close to utilities. Meanwhile, associate legal writing professor Brian Porto of Vermont Law School raises a separate issue.

“If you’re taking someone else’s idea and not citing the person, and you’re falsely suggesting that those ideas are your own, certainly within the definition of plagiarism that comes within it,” he told AP.

Stephen Wark, deputy commissioner of the department, told AP that Hofmann used some of the legal analysis by utilities lawyer David Mullett with his permission.

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