Lawyer signs on to represent Jeremy Dodge in land deal
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | June 12,2013
MONTPELIER — A high-profile attorney with ties to the Republican Party has become the newest character in an ongoing saga featuring the governor of Vermont and his ill-fated land deal.
Brady Toensing, whose former clients include Republican candidate for governor Brian Dubie, has signed on to represent Jeremy Dodge, the East Montpelier man seeking to regain the 16-acre homestead he sold to Peter Shumlin last fall.
Joining Toensing on the case is Joy Karnes Limoge, a Williston attorney who specializes in property law. Limoge was a prominent supporter last year of Randy Brock, Shumlin’s failed Republican challenger in the race for governor.
Dodge’s children say Shumlin exploited their troubled father by using the specter of an imminent tax sale to snap up for $58,000 a property now valued by town listers at $140,000. Shumlin has defended the transaction as a fair one for both buyer and seller.
But what has until now been a neighborly dispute could soon turn political as Toensing, a veteran Republican operative, enters the fray.
Toensing on Tuesday denied any partisan motivations. In his lone statement to the press, he said he welcomes “the opportunity to assist a fellow Vermonter.”
“Mr. Dodge has been dealing with a sophisticated and shrewd businessman, a businessman who is also the most powerful person in Vermont, represented by one of the best lawyers money can buy,” Toensing said. “Mr. Dodge clearly needed some help.”
Toensing is known best in political circles in Vermont for his work on behalf of Dubie, whom he defended against campaign finance allegations stemming from his 2010 race for governor. Attorney General William Sorrell said at the time that Dubie violated state laws by sharing polling data with the Republican Governors Association.
Toensing brokered a settlement in which Dubie paid a $10,000 civil penalty and made a $10,000 contribution to the Vermont Foodbank, though Dubie never had to admit wrongdoing.
Toensing is a resident of Charlotte but a partner at diGenova & Toensing LLP, a Washington, D.C., law firm founded by his mother and stepfather. In a 1998 Washington Post article, reporter Howard Kurtz described Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova as a “classic Washington power couple” who helped fan the Clinton-Lewinsky political scandal on behalf of Republican interests.
Before joining the family firm, Brady Toensing worked as a legislative assistant in the early 1990s for Warren B. Rudman, the two-term Republican U.S. senator from New Hampshire.
Shumlin has retained his own politically connected lawyer in the form of Jerry Diamond, the former three-term attorney general who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1980 — a race he lost to Republican Richard Snelling.
Shumlin was out of the state Tuesday for a meeting of the National Governors Association in Chicago. Diamond issued a statement welcoming Brady Toensing and Limoge to the table.
“I was glad to learn from press reports today that Jeremy Dodge has retained attorneys,” Diamond said.
Diamond last week reached out to Dodge through the media, saying Shumlin was willing to void the real estate transaction, as long as Dodge repaid the back taxes and other expenses Shumlin has incurred in the deal thus far. Shumlin’s out-of-pocket expenses, Diamond noted, are considerably less than the $58,000 sale price, which included nearly $20,000 in “prepaid occupancy” and “repair credits.”
Dodge, who didn’t return phone calls left Tuesday, has previously said he wants to remain on the property, which he inherited from his parents in 2009. He went public with his seller’s remorse late last month, in advance of the July 15 deadline by which he was contractually obligated to be out of the 965-square-foot home that sits on the property he sold to Shumlin. Shumlin moved in next door to Dodge last year.
“As I made clear last week, the governor is happy to meet Mr. Dodge’s request that the property be sold back to Mr. Dodge for what the governor has paid out of pocket,” Diamond said in a statement. “I was pleased to hear last week that the Dodge family agrees with this outcome, and I look forward to working with Mr. Dodge’s counsel to bring this to a resolution.”
It’s unclear whether Dodge or his family is aware of Brady Toensing’s political ties.
Limoge was a key supporter of Brock, who in his concession speech last year included her name first on the short list of people to whom he offered special thanks for their roles in his campaign. Limoge said Tuesday that her interest in Dodge’s case has nothing to do with politics.
“Poor Jerry Dodge,” Limoge said. “He’s a hardworking, poor Vermonter, and he’s coming up against one of the most powerful men in the state with the means to hire one of the best lawyers in the state. He needs legal representation to get himself through this.”
Neither Limoge nor Toensing would comment on whether they’re taking on the case pro bono or, if not, who’s footing the bill.
Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, said he doesn’t “have any thoughts” on Toensing’s arrival on the case, other than he’s “pleased that some very good attorneys … have come together to support the Dodge family.”
Asked, however, whether he’d spoken with Brady Toensing about the Dodge case prior to Toensing announcing his involvement Tuesday morning, Lindley said he had.
“At some point (Toensing) had indicated he was thinking about and willing to help a Vermont family,” Lindley said. “I think he was trying to figure out whether I had heard whether there were any other Vermont attorneys that were willing to step forward. That was his motive, I think, in talking to me about it.”
Lindley said he and Toensing otherwise talk only “very irregularly.”
The Vermont Democratic Party declined to offer any statement on the latest developments in the Shumlin land deal.