In 1973, former state trooper Paul D. Lawrence was hired by St. Albans to clean up the drug and “hippie problem” at Taylor Park and along Main Street. He proved he was the right man for the job. Within a year, he had made more than 100 arrests.
But there was a problem. The arrests were a sham. He had planted evidence and made-up stories. A special prosecutor appointed by then-governor Thomas Salmon determined all but one of the 106 arrests were fraudulent. Most of the drug evidence presented had come from the New York State Police Crime Laboratory. The cases were dropped and Lawrence went to prison.
Lawrence had resigned from the state police after incidents questioning his honesty and brutality and he had been forced out of being a police chief in Vergennes.
Former attorney general Kimberly B. Cheney (1972-1975), who was thrown feet first into this mess, writes about the “Lawrence Affair” in his new memoir, “A Lawyer’s Life to Live,” published by Montpelier-based Rootstock Publishing.
The memoir is a ranging account of Cheney’s life, from his boyhood in Connecticut, to Yale, to the Navy, to Vermont, three marriages, triumphs and defeats, personal highs and crushing lows.
“I wrote this book in part to address the question we all face as we near the end of life, after I had successfully finished treatment of lung cancer, ‘What is the meaning of Life?’ Lives are an evanescent story, perhaps that is all they are. I felt telling my story might give meaning to me as well as others. My story is one I never imagined. I hope readers will feel they have learned about a life well-lived personally, while making positive social changes,” Cheney said.
In 1965, Cheney worked for a law firm in New Haven, Connecticut, trying cases involving fights about money. Wanting to contribute to more socially-minded work, and rekindle his love of nature, he and his wife and two young children, moved to Vermont in 1967. The journey led to rising political influence as Cheney became attorney general, among other roles.
Some of his stories, like the Lawrence Affair, kickstart the memories of those who remember, some are funny, some sad, some touching, and some painful to retell.
In 1960, while in the Navy, he fathered a child who was given up for adoption.
“I remained deeply distressed by my obvious betrayal and my failure to meet parental expectations,” he writes.
That awful experience was one of the motivations for his advocacy that Vermont update its laws on adoption.
Cheney’s childhood was considerably different from the lives of most young people who grew up in the 1950s. He rarely watched television and never went to school with girls, not even in college.
“I never saw the ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ or Dick Van Dyke, and attained near-total lack of understanding or knowledge of popular culture. To this day, I find myself puzzled by references to popular television shows from the 1950s or ’60s, and regard this as a positive rather than negative feature of my youth,” he writes.
Cheney doesn’t blame the Lawrence Affair for his defeat to M. Jerome Diamond in his re-election bid in 1974, but says it may have been a contributing factor.
“I had nothing to do with Lawrence’s hiring, but the local state’s attorney had a conflict of interest requiring that I assign an assistant attorney general to fill in for prosecuting some of the Lawrence case. I became suspicious of Lawrence, and asked the state police to hire a ‘narc’ to see if he was legitimate. The commissioner said he would, but didn’t. Lawrence was caught by the Burlington Police, but my efforts to nail him remained unknown to the public. The Lawrence affair may have had a significant effect on my bid for re-election as attorney general. I regretted not having pushed State Police Commissioner Edward Corcoran harder to investigate him, and I blamed myself for being naive. Why had I believed the state police would do what they’d agreed to, in a timely fashion? Had I pushed harder and been more aware, perhaps fewer people would have suffered; and possibly, I might even have been reelected attorney general. I have profoundly sad recollections of that time, and blame myself for occasional naïveté and failure to both diagnose the evil involved and to take action in rooting it out,” he writes.
Diamond has praised Cheney’s book.
“If Atticus Finch had written a memoir of his complete life as a country lawyer, I believe it would have read much like A Lawyer’s Life to Live.” Diamond said. Diamond was Attorney General from 1975 to 1981.
The book has received similar praise from Robert Sand, founding director of the Center for Justice Reform at Vermont Law School. “Personal and poignant, the memoir reveals how a child of relative comfort and privilege grows up to dedicate his life to public service and the pursuit of justice. With occasional humorous anecdotes and insights, Cheney captures the nuance and human complexities of the law,” Sand said.
Cheney, who retired from law in 2018 at age 83, is married to Barbara Smith, a retired nutrition consultant. Barbara has two adult children and Cheney has four children.
“Every life is important and affects others. My story was important to me, my family and I was able to be a part of events with historical importance, which will be of interest to the public. I wanted to tell a story that illustrates that politics is about the impact of personality on events, more than it is about so called ‘issues’ at every level at which a person participates in the community he or she inhabits,” he said.
”A Lawyer’s Life to Live” is available locally at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, on Amazon, IndieBound, Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, and on Rootstock Publishing’s website, www.rootstockpublishing.com