By Grace Yurish
New Hampshire history was made when Talesha L. Saint-Marc became the first Black person in New Hampshire to serve on the federal bench as a United States magistrate judge. On October 12, her consequential investiture ceremony was held at the Warren B. Rudman Courthouse in Concord.
The event was filled with Judge Saint-Marc’s lifelong friends, family, fellow judges, and Bar members who came to witness her ceremonial swearing-in. The afternoon began with remarks from US District Court for the District of New Hampshire Chief Judge Landya B. McCafferty, where she introduced honorable guests and dignitaries who joined her on the bench during the event. Following introductions, Saint-Marc’s oldest children, Jeremiah and Chloe, led the court in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The opening was concluded with the reading of a congratulatory letter from Senator Maggie Hassan.
One of the selected speakers, Superior Court Senior Justice Gillian Abramson, was a mentor to Judge Saint-Marc and describes her as her “rock” during a very difficult trial in her career.
“She is always sunny-side up, she is calm, and she is reflective,” Judge Abramson said in her remarks. “Above all, she will listen. All lawyers and litigants really want in the end is to be heard and to be seen. Those appearing before Judge Saint-Marc will have a hearing, but they will also have a conversation. She is no pushover; there is a steel hand beneath that velvet glove. It is a dream come true for Talesha, for me, but also for you, Judge McCafferty, because she will become a dream come true for your court.”
A New Hampshire native, Saint-Marc received her undergraduate degree in political science from Franklin Pierce University in 2006 and her juris doctor from Northeastern University School of Law in 2009. Upon graduation, she clerked at the Superior Court, as well as the New Hampshire Supreme Court under retired Justice Carol Ann Conboy. In 2012, she began practicing labor and employment law at Bernstein Shur, where she worked until her judicial appointment.
Attorney Hilary Holmes Rheaume of Bernstein Shur also spoke at the ceremony. She and Judge Saint-Marc became best friends through their work together at the firm. Rheaume spoke with great pride about her friend’s accomplishment.
“You earned this moment,” she said. “But I don’t think anyone in this room is surprised that you are making history. And I would challenge the idea that your impact on the world is defined by this moment. You have already positively impacted so many people’s lives inside and outside of this room and you will continue to do so for years to come.”
Rheaume continued: “Talesha, you help people rise. And when you enter the courtroom and hear the marshal say the words ‘all rise,’ remember this moment and the lives you’ve already touched. You are in this moment, and you deserve it.”
Judge Saint-Marc is an active participant in her community. A graduate of the NHBA’s Leadership Academy, she is the current chair of the NHBA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and has served on several other committees. She was highly involved at her former firm, known by her colleagues as “the labor and employment attorney” at the Manchester office.
She has also been involved in many organizations over the years, including the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association, New Hampshire Legal Assistance, Rivier University’s Board of Trustees, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Nashua, the Bishop Estee and Ida Newman Scholarship Fund, the American Heart Association, and the Circle Program.
Following the moving speeches, Judge Saint-Marc was sworn in by Judge McCafferty as her husband, Ricardo Saint-Marc, and her grandfather, Bishop Stanley Choate, held the Bible. The crowd erupted in a booming applause for the historical moment.
“I was honored to be the person to give her that oath,” Judge McCafferty says. “It’s one of the real honors of a judge’s career to be able to administer the Oath of Office to another judge. The historical nature of Judge Saint-Marc’s elevation to the bench made it all the more special and exciting.”
Judge Saint-Marc was then robed by her husband and took the podium to give her remarks. She began by thanking the people who have supported her throughout her journey, including her fellow judges, mentors, colleagues, friends, and family.
“As a kid, I imagined being a lawyer, but I didn’t see many lawyers that looked like me,” she shared in her remarks. “Once I got into law school and I became a lawyer, I imagined being a judge, but I didn’t see very many judges who looked like me. Sometimes it can be really difficult to think big if you do not see people who reflect your life experiences. That is why I am beyond humbled and honored to serve as the first Black judge for the District of New Hampshire.”
She closed the ceremony with these final thoughts: “I am hopeful that through my service when younger generations see me, they are reminded that they too can fulfill their dream of becoming a lawyer, and even a judge. So, today culminates a fulfillment of a dream for me, and I don’t take the responsibilities of my position lightly. I vow to listen, to be fair, to be compassionate, and to afford all litigants equal justice under the law.”
Judge Saint-Marc says she debated if this step was coming at the right time for her family and career. She lives by the mantra, “What’s the worst thing that happens if you try?” and that encouraged her to go for her dream.
“It leaves me speechless,” she says of her achievement. “It also leaves me feeling very proud. Not only for myself and my family but for all of those who paved the way before me and for those who are going to come after me. I never thought that I would be a trailblazer and even when I applied for this position, I never thought about the fact that I would be making history. That all came after, when everyone else started telling me, ‘Wait a minute, aren’t you the first?’ It hit me then.”
Judge Saint-Marc shares that many people, including herself, got emotional during the ceremony. She laughed as she noted that her three-year-old daughter slept through the entire event.
“The vibe of the room was so representative of Talesha,” says Rheaume, adding that typically events like these can be stiff, as they are held at a courthouse, but this event had a different atmosphere. “You could feel the audience members understanding who she is as a person, how profound and historic this moment is, and maintaining the ceremonial atmosphere but also allowing everybody in that room to feel whatever emotions they needed to.”
Judge McCafferty agrees with the sentiment.
“Everybody was so moved,” she says. “I had a bird’s-eye view of the entire courtroom. The whole place was teary-eyed and joyous at her elevation to the bench. It was a wonderful day.”
After the court was adjourned, the attendees were invited to a reception on the front lawn of the courthouse. As the afternoon ended, the guests mingled, and Judge Saint-Marc welcomed their congratulations and well wishes for her new position.
Her historic appointment leaves an indelible mark on the legal community. Her commitment to fairness and justice serves as an enduring inspiration, lighting the way for those who will follow her path in pursuit of their own dreams.
“Don’t be limited by your fears or your doubts,” Judge Saint-Marc says. “Think big. Think, ‘If my wildest dreams come true, what would that be?’ and then push toward that and realize those could come true. Don’t live in the limits of ‘it will never happen or it’s unrealistic.’ I think that’s something that’s helped me in my career.”