Updated at 7:37 p.m.
Days after Attorney General TJ Donovan vacated his statewide role to accept a job in the private sector, Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday appointed Susanne Young, a former deputy attorney general and secretary of administration, to complete the remaining six months of Donovan’s term.
The move by the Republican governor drew criticism from the Democratic Attorneys General Association, as well as both Democratic candidates now running for the seat: Charity Clark, Donovan’s former chief of staff, and Rory Thibault, Washington County state’s attorney. Both candidates raised questions around the process that led to Young’s appointment.
A veteran civil servant, Young is stepping back into state government after just months spent in retirement. Having served more than 40 years, she retired last November from her role as secretary of administration. In that role, Young oversaw large swaths of state government, including budgeting, human resources, government buildings and more.
Before heading the Agency of Administration, Young served as deputy attorney general under Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell. She previously held top jobs with Republican Jim Douglas when he was governor and state treasurer.
“There are few with the experience and skill set needed to ensure this important office is stable and fully prepared to help transition to a newly elected attorney general in January,” Scott said Wednesday. “Susanne is the embodiment of public service, and it is especially meaningful that she will be the first woman to serve as Vermont’s top law enforcement officer.”
Donovan, a Democrat, announced in May that he would not seek reelection, ushering in a field of contenders vying for an open spot as Vermont’s top prosecutor. In addition to Clark and Thibault, Republican H. Brooke Paige and Progressive Elijah Bergman have filed to run for the seat.
Earlier this month, Donovan said he wouldn’t complete his current term. Effective Monday, he left the role to accept a job with online gaming company Roblox. Chief Deputy Attorney General Joshua Diamond was set to assume the role “unless and until” Scott filled the vacancy.
Young is set to assume the attorney general’s post July 5 and serve until a new attorney general is sworn in next January.
Diamond, whose run leading the office barely had reached its second day before Scott made his announcement, issued a statement Wednesday congratulating Young on her appointment, calling it a “wonderful capstone to her career in public service.”
Donovan, when he announced earlier this month he would be ending his term early, highlighted Diamond's ability to assume the leadership of the office, calling him “one of the most experienced and well-regarded attorneys in Vermont.”
Donovan told VTDigger on Wednesday afternoon that the Attorney General’s Office would be “in good hands” with Young at the helm, calling Young a “dedicated public servant.”
Asked if he believed the governor’s action was a slight to Diamond, Donovan said Young is “an exemplary public servant, as is Josh Diamond. Both of them would have been tremendous. But it’s the governor's call, and I respect his decision.”
Clark, who stepped down in May to run for the attorney general’s post, said Wednesday that she believed Scott should have allowed Diamond, the chief deputy, to continue leading the department, either by not making an appointment at all or by appointing Diamond to the position.
“Josh is incredibly capable and obviously familiar with all the cases,” Clark said. “In addition, the voters selected TJ Donovan to be their attorney general, and TJ Donovan selected Josh Diamond to be his deputy attorney general. I think to select someone else sort of takes that away from the voters.”
Thibault said Wednesday that he was surprised by the swiftness of the appointment. The process for making appointments to open elected positions typically involves “consultation or deliberation” with leaders of the departing official’s party, he said.
“Given the timelines here, my main concern would be that that process may have been skipped,” Thibault said, adding of Young’s appointment, “I would take heart in the fact that this appears to be a caretaker administration until the next attorney general takes office.”
Sean Rankin, president of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, said in a statement Wednesday that Scott was “playing politics” with the appointment in the months leading up to the election.
“Shame on him for appointing a Republican to take former AG Donovan’s seat,” Rankin said. “Vermonters overwhelmingly elected a Democrat to the office of Attorney General in 2020, and they deserve to have a Democrat in office for the remainder of AG Donovan’s term.”
Because Vermont voters don’t formally enroll in political parties and Young is not an elected official, her party affiliation is not clear. While Jason Maulucci, Scott’s press secretary, said Young is “probably” a Republican, she is a career civil servant who has worked with two Republican governors and one Democratic attorney general. She will not run for the office in November, he said.
The governor recently opted not to appoint replacement state’s attorneys in Rutland and Addison counties, allowing the interim office holders to maintain their leadership. Scott said it would provide “stability” to allow those acting state’s attorneys, who both served as deputies, to finish out their predecessors’ terms.
Maulucci stressed that Young’s appointment was a matter of placing the most qualified person in the role until a new attorney general is elected.
“It had nothing to do with Deputy Diamond,” he said. “It's all about Susanne's qualifications, and we just knew that she was the right person for the job.”
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