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Franklin County’s new top prosecutor looks to bring stability to the office

A man with a beard wearing a blue suit and pink tie.
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
Franklin County State’s Attorney Bram Kranichfeld poses for a picture outside his office. Kranichfeld worked at Chittenden County state’s attorney office and led the Attorney General’s criminal division before leaving the law to become an Episcopal priest. He now returns to the courtroom as the county's top prosecutor.

On a recent Tuesday morning, Judge Alison Arms began a routine change of plea hearing in Franklin County criminal court.

The defendant, who appeared via video from the state prison in St. Albans, was going to plead guilty to a charge of operating a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent. He was going to serve an eight month to two year sentence in prison, according to the deal hammered out by his public defender and state prosecutors.

There was a slight hitch. Franklin County state’s attorney Bram Kranichfeld, who was permanently appointed to the position about three weeks ago, told the judge the victim wanted to be at the hearing — and Kranichfeld also needed to sign the plea agreement.

“I'd ask that the court send this out for a change of plea to give us time to notify the victim and allow her to be here,” Kranichfeld said during the hearing.

Arms agreed to reschedule the court date. The hearing lasted about five minutes and it was mostly unremarkable. Except, perhaps, for the presence of Kranichfeld. It was only a few years ago that the veteran prosecutor left his law career to become an Episcopal priest.

But when John Lavoie, the previous Franklin County state’s attorney resigned during a discrimination scandal last year, Kranichfeld decided to step up.

“It was a really hard decision to make,” Kranichfeld said in a recent interview. “Because at that time, I had just finished my first year as an ordained priest.”

More from Vermont Public: Vt. House lawmakers begin impeachment process for Franklin County sheriff and state's attorney

An internal investigation released last May found that Lavoie harassed and discriminated against his employees. The legislature took the rare step of launching an impeachment investigation, but Lavoie stepped down before it was completed.

Kranichfeld, who was initially appointed the interim state’s attorney, said one his first actions was to call a staff meeting.

“The main theme of that meeting was, from me, a message of, ‘I come in peace … I see my mission here is one of healing and restoration,’” Kranichfeld said.

Kranichfeld spent nearly a decade working in the Chittenden County state’s attorney’s office. But in early 2017, he reached an inflection point; he got passed over to lead that department and, on top of that, a few months earlier his father died.

Those two events sparked a moment of personal and professional reflection, which led Kranichfeld down a new path: becoming a priest — a process that took about five years and included getting a master’s degree in divinity from The Montreal School of Theology.

Now, Kranichfeld is back in the courtroom — something he did not expect.

A brick building with an American flag in front of it.
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
Franklin County's criminal court house in downtown St. Albans.

“So many surprising things have happened over the years that it's really hard to try to predict,” he said. “I have no regrets. I think this was and is the right place for me to be right now.”

The break from the law has given Kranichfeld, a 44-year-old father of two, a fresh perspective and new skills, like listening with empathy.

“It's a huge part of being a priest — guiding people through really, really tough life transitions and sitting with people in their experience,” Kranichfeld said. “And I have found that to be very, very helpful in this, you know, coming back into this role as a prosecutor.”

Kranichfeld’s detour into the clergy isn’t the only unusual part of his resume. He lives in Burlington, and while there are no residency requirements for state’s attorneys, it is unusual to hold the position while living in another jurisdiction.

Defense attorneys say Kranichfeld is making progress on steadying the prosecutor’s office, which has about 1,600 pending cases. Paul Groce, a co-supervising attorney at the Franklin County Public Defender’s Office, said that communication with the state’s attorney’s office has improved.

“We don't see eye to eye on the cases,” Groce said. “But as far as having a working healthy relationship, I think I see a lot of potential for us to be able to collaborate when we need to collaborate and know when we have to fight.”

Kranichfeld hopes to tackle a few big projects in Franklin County, like launching a treatment court program. Several Vermont counties have them, and the programs aim to help people whose criminal behavior is tied to drug use get help and keep them out of prison.

“As a prosecutor, we're often in this weird spot,” he said. “We're in a system that's designed to hold people accountable for criminal behavior, but we're trying to find a way to get a person help through that system.”

Kranichfeld’s term lasts until January 2027. He said he hasn’t decided if he’ll go for another one.

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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