Jay Orost enters courtroom

Jay Orost, second from left, enters the courtroom at Lamoille County Superior Court Wednesday morning.

A Johnson man who pleaded guilty in March to a half-dozen criminal charges related to child sexual abuse was scheduled to be sentenced this month.

Instead, he fired his lawyer, and not the one who set him up with the plea agreement.

Jay Orost, 57, had originally instructed his lawyer, Jason Sawyer, to file a motion to withdraw his guilty plea in Lamoille County Superior Court Wednesday morning. But instead, Sawyer entered a motion to withdraw himself, saying he “can’t effectively represent” Orost due to their differences.

Judge Megan Shafritz granted the request, saying, “I think Mr. Orost should have the counsel he wishes to have.”

Shafritz, however, told Orost and prosecutors that she doesn’t want the case to drag on indefinitely. She gave Orost a 30-day deadline to either find new counsel or enter an intent to represent himself.

Sawyer is the second lawyer Orost has dismissed in the past few months. He also fired David Sleigh, the defense lawyer who helped strike a plea agreement with prosecutors in March.

Under that agreement, Orost pleaded guilty to a half-dozen criminal charges — including four felony counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Each count carries a minimum sentence of two years, with a maximum 15-year sentence.

In addition, Orost pleaded guilty to two counts of violating abuse-prevention orders and one felony count of obstructing justice. 

More than a dozen additional charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal in March.

The plea agreement came just as jury selection for his trial was getting underway. The trial was canceled after Orost agreed to plead guilty.

On Wednesday, Orost was led in to the courtroom with ankle and leg shackles and rattling chains, thinner than at his initial arraignment in October 2017, and with a beard. The alleged victim’s family and friends were ushered out of the courtroom as he was led in, but took their seats after he sat, with his back to them.

Orost apologized to Shafritz for the delay.

“I plan to move forward,” he said. “I’m sorry to waste your time.”

Lamoille County State’s Attorney Todd Shove said he would like to see the case come to an end, especially since Orost was originally scheduled to be sentenced in July for the crimes he pleaded guilty to in March.

“This was an unanticipated outcome of the court hearing,” Shove said Wednesday. “The state would like to see this case move forward.”

The crimes alleged

According to court documents, years of abuse came to light in September 2017, when a 17-year-old girl told her high school guidance counselor she had been sexually, physically and emotionally abused by Orost since she was 10 years old.

The counselor contacted the Vermont Department for Children and Families.

Court records laid out, in explicit detail, how Orost allegedly abused the girl starting at age 10 — making her watch pornography, coercing her to perform sex acts on him, choking her and slamming her against a wall. The incidents number in the dozens, she told police.

When police asked the girl why she waited so long to seek help, she told them she was “counting down the days to when she turned 18,” but then noticed Orost had begun looking lewdly at a younger relative, and sometimes would get drunk and “accidentally” stumble and grope one of her female friends.

Shortly after the original charges were filed, two other alleged victims came forward in October 2017, and Orost was charged with a dozen additional offenses.

One girl, a juvenile friend of the first alleged victim, told investigators Orost would get her drunk and try to kiss and fondle her and get into bed with her.

According to court records, the third woman told authorities Orost sexually assaulted her and exposed himself to her in the 1980s and 1990s. That victim, now in her 30s, told police Orost made her perform oral sex on him when she was 6 years old and he was in his late 20s.

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