By David D. King, New Hampshire
Circuit Court Administrative Judge
In an effort to limit the number of courts to which judges are assigned next year, the circuit court has adopted a different method of assigning judicial officers, which will take effect on January 1, 2020. Although statutorily authorized for 45 full time judges, the court currently operates with 32 full time judges, 2 full time marital masters, and more than 25 part time judges, retired judges and referees, covering 35 locations around the state. Since its creation in 2011, circuit court judicial scheduling has been a centralized function. Beginning next year, the state has been divided into 4 “Regions” to which a specific number of judges are assigned, based on the weighted caseload of the courts in that region. Scheduling decisions will be made by 4 presiding judges, Judge Michael Garner (Region A), Judge Kris Spath (Region B), Judge Mark Weaver (Region C) and Judge Patricia Quigley (Region D). The goal of this change is to have most judges assigned to no more than 2 locations, doing a wider variety of cases across the divisions. By regionalizing the process, the local judges and clerks will have more flexibility to move resources to the courts with the most need throughout the year.
For five years, the circuit court has run a pilot complex family docket in an effort to provide dedicated staff and judicial resources to the most complex divorce/parenting cases in the family division. It was modeled after the complex trust docket, which has been operating in the probate division for many years. Judge Robert Foley has carried a case load of up to 50 cases from around the state. Judge Foley, who has done a remarkable job managing some of the most challenging litigation in this court, will reach mandatory retirement next year and has elected to step down from the complex docket. The pilot project has demonstrated that there are far too many complex family cases for one judge to manage. For 2020, the decision whether to dedicate limited judicial resources to handle only complex marital cases was left to the regional presiding judges. Region C, comprised of the 7th and 10th circuits (Strafford and Rockingham counties) will assign Judge Jennifer Lemire to a complex marital docket for that region, in the Brentwood location. The remaining regions have elected to spread the complex marital cases among their more experienced family division judges. All cases currently pending on the complex docket, not originating from Region C, will be returned to their courts of origin. A number of factors went into these decisions. As we move forward, with hopefully some new judicial appointments, scheduling changes may occur.
At the same time we are making these changes, three new family division sites will be opening, in Candia, Milford, and Hampton. We are in the process of making all of the necessary changes including staffing, IT, moving of files and fixtures. Please bear with us as we approach 2020 and implement so many changes at once.