Day by Day, In Pursuit of Justice | People & Places | Smithsonian

Day by Day, In Pursuit of Justice

In Washington County, Vermont, prosecutors face mounting caseloads, looming deadlines —and ongoing drama

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Terry Trono spreads out the arrested man's record. It runs to five printed pages. But he remembers most of it from previous encounters. "When was it? 1986?" he says. "Vince attacked two picnickers with a lead pipe — he served most of ten years on that one."

Trono is slight, prematurely gray, alert, sociable. He is state's attorney for Washington County, Vermont — the prosecutor. Currently, 300 cases are backed up. This county's towns are small, even the state capital. It has mountainside farms, granite sheds, state offices, insurance companies. Crime rates are low. Even so, Terry Trono and his four deputies take on some 40 new cases every week, around 1,800 cases a year.

Reporters Richard and Joyce Wolkomir, over a series of months, chronicled the prosecutor's world — the stories that, relentlessly, define the inner workings of the criminal justice system. On any given day, these attorneys may deal with cases ranging from burglary to heroin dealing, child abuse to drunk driving, rape to writing bad checks.

In many cases, Trono and his staff willingly admit, a plea bargain is a necessary tool. With more than 2,000 cases a year in this county, and a single District Court judge, only a fraction of the cases can possibly come to trial. (About 90 percent of the defendants will accept a plea bargain.) Trono remains pragmatic in his approach: "There isn't much time to dwell on the outcomes," he says, most probably speaking for the overworked, modestly paid prosecutors across the nation. "You get over it, and get on."

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