This summer, Ron Holmes, Mike Elmore and Dave Silberman are all campaigning for the elected position of high bailiff in Addison County. Silberman and Holmes are both vying for the Democratic nomination on Aug. 11, and Elmore plans to run as an Independent in the November general election.
High bailiff is an elected public office that only exists in Vermont, and there is one in every county. It’s a vestige of English Common Law, and the job description in the Vermont statutes is a single sentence:
“A high bailiff may serve writs which the sheriff is incompetent to serve, and his or her fees shall be the same as those of the sheriff.”
Essentially, the high bailiff’s job is to carry out any of the sheriff’s duties that the sheriff can’t. Most importantly: arresting the sheriff if necessary.
VPR’s Anna Van Dine spoke with the three candidates running for office in Addison County. Their conversation originally aired on The Frequency on July 28, and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Ron Holmes: My name is Ron Holmes, running for high bailiff of Addison County this year.
Dave Silberman: I am Dave Silberman. I am an attorney in Middlebury. I'm a longtime criminal justice reform and drug policy reform advocate. And I'm a candidate for high bailiff of Addison County.
Mike Elmore: I'm Mike Elmore. I'm currently employed by the Addison County Sheriff's Office. My role right now is sergeant, so I'm a supervisor of the patrol staff and the scheduling here at the department.
Dave Silberman: I think the most important thing for me, running for the office of high bailiff, is to make sure people understand that there is an office called high bailiff.
Ron Holmes: The high bailiff actually is an elected office; it’s a two-year position. And if needed, you would assume the role of sheriff, if the sheriff could no longer serve.
Mike Elmore: The high bailiff is that fill-in position until the governor can appoint a new sheriff.
Ron Holmes: Let's say he was hurt in an accident, he resigned. Any number of things.
Dave Silberman: The office of high bailiff is a constitutional role, whose sole power is to arrest the sheriff if the sheriff needs arresting.
Ron Holmes: There’s not too much to do, actually. There’s no office. There's no pay. There's no assigned duties.
Dave Silberman: There's no badge. It's a title.
Mike Elmore: I think it goes way back to the times of law enforcement within the county when it first got going.
Dave Silberman: This was before there was a state police; this was before most towns had town police roles. And back then, really, the sheriff was the ultimate law enforcement authority in each county. So the importance of having a high bailiff is that without someone who can hold the sheriff ... liable for violations of the law, the sheriff would be above the law. The sheriff could violate the law with impunity.
My opponents are, on the one hand, the sheriff’s closest deputy – he seems like a fine fellow – and the other opponent is a gentleman who has previously unsuccessfully challenged the sheriff, both for the sheriff's office, as well as successfully challenged him four years ago for the office of high bailiff.
Mike Elmore: I know Ron Holmes only in passing and can say the same for Dave Silberman, but I know Ron at one point worked for the sheriff's office. It's been a while.
Ron Holmes: I was employed there for 25 years. I served before as high bailiff. Like I said, I was a deputy sheriff for 25 years. I was elected high bailiff in 2016 and I served for two years. And I was called to do civil process – which the sheriff had chosen not to do – by a lawyer in town, which I did. I received numerous calls, and it was interesting because a lot of them had nothing to do with the high bailiff’s office, but people just wanted to ask for my help in different regards, and I was happy to do it.
Mike Elmore: I have a background in law enforcement already. I'm a little bit younger than the other ones as well. I mean, it has its positives and negatives there. But I'm currently employed with the sheriff's office, so I do already have that knowledge of how the sheriff's office works. So if Peter, the sheriff, was going to have to step down for some reason, or if he died while in office, then I want there to be someone to take over that already knows the department, that can help it function until the governor can step in and appoint that next sheriff.
Ron Holmes: Let me give you a case in point. I received a call from a woman in the county. She was very concerned about her neighbor. He had lost his wife recently. He had lost a leg. And she was very concerned about him being depressed. He'd also lost his dog recently. So I said sure, so I went to his house and talked to him for a couple hours, visited, left him my phone number and told him to call me if he had any concerns or he needed anything at all, that I'd be glad to help him. He's doing very good, according to his neighbor, who I've been in some contact with.
Dave Silberman: I think it's critically important that the office of high bailiff be held by a civilian, that the police power of the county be subject to independent civilian oversight. In recent decades, through our deference to uniformed police officers, we've ceded the power of oversight of the law enforcement community to the law enforcement community itself. The office of high bailiff has become seen as a sort of sheriff-in-waiting, something reserved for maybe the sheriff's favorite deputy, or maybe the sheriff's political rival.
Mike Elmore: I know my moral obligation as the high bailiff is: If the sheriff needs to be arrested, then it's my duty as a high bailiff to do that, whether I know the person and have a relationship with them or not. If it were to come to that point – which I don't ever think it would – it would be him making that decision to get himself into that situation where I would be the one arresting him. So I wouldn't have any sort of conflict with that, no.
Ron Holmes: Oh, I think it's a position that, like I said, is elected, and the voters choose you, which means a lot. So the trust of the county means a lot.
Dave Silberman: The primary message of this campaign is that we need civilian oversight of the police, and this is one opportunity for us to do it.
Ron Holmes: Like I said, I've gotten excellent feedback from everybody I've talked to, and I’m well-known. My reputation is well-known. I think my chances are very good.
Mike Elmore: I think I have a pretty good chance. This is my first time ever trying for any sort of political office.
Dave Silberman: It all depends on turnout, and I hope I'll win.
We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.