By Tiffany Tan, Bennington Banner
BENNINGTON — A Springfield attorney has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of sexual misconduct, allegations that also have triggered an investigation by a lawyers’ regulatory board.
Melvin Fink, 76, is facing two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct at state court in Bennington County. He is accused of sexually assaulting a woman at her home in Peru in July 2017, according to court records obtained from the Bennington County Superior Court.
Fink pleaded not guilty when he was formally read his charges in court Feb. 8.
He is alleged to have grabbed the back of the woman’s head, “forced her face to his face, and inserted his tongue into her mouth and partially down her throat” without her consent, Fink’s charging document reads.
It alleges also that Fink pushed his fingers, through the woman’s clothing, into her backside.
The incidents occurred when the woman met with Fink to discuss a court case involving her family, according to the sworn statement of a Vemont State Police detective sergeant who investigated the complaint. She and Fink supposedly had arranged to meet at his office, but Fink switched the location to her home in a call earlier that day.
The state police affidavit states Fink had billed the woman $100 for speaking with her that day, half of his hourly rate.
When asked why the woman waited until July 2018 to make a police report, she cited concern for how the complaint might affect her family’s court case and their welfare.
Each of Fink’s criminal charges carries a punishment of up to five years in prison and/or a maximum fine of $300.
He was cited to appear in court and released with an order not to have any contact with the woman, said the prosecutor, State Assistant Attorney General Paul Barkus.
Fink’s lawyer denied the charges when asked for comment.
“We look forward to establishing Melvin’s innocence in court,” defense attorney David Sleigh said. Fink has represented clients in both criminal and civil cases.
Meanwhile, the Vermont Judiciary’s Professional Responsibility Board has filed a petition of misconduct against Fink, triggering an administrative investigation into the woman’s allegations.
A three-person hearing panel determines if a violation of the professional conduct expected of lawyers has occurred. If a violation is found, the panel will decide the appropriate disciplinary action – ranging from a public reprimand to disbarment for five years – said Sarah Katz, disciplinary counsel with the board.
The administrative proceedings against Fink were put on hold until his criminal case is resolved, as his lawyer requested. Katz didn’t object, saying a stay was appropriate and necessary in light of Fink’s constitutional rights in his criminal proceedings.
Fink’s next court date is a status hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. on April 26. He has waived court appearances; Sleigh will appear on his behalf.
The Professional Responsibility Board assists the Vermont Supreme Court in overseeing the professional conduct of all attorneys practicing in Vermont. Cases pending before the board can be viewed on vermontjudiciary.org/about-vermont-judiciary/boards-and-commitees/professional-responsibility/hearing-calendar.
Tiffany Tan can be reached at email@example.com, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.
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