By Mysty Shappy
In partnership with the New Hampshire Bar Foundation, the Judicial Branch kicked off its first National Judicial Outreach Week on March 1 with a presentation by Circuit Court Judge Ellen Christo and Attorney Lyndsay Robinson to a class of students at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
“Speaking to over 100 students at UNH about the Rule of Law, the New Hampshire court system, and my own experience as a judge was a privilege,” says Judge Christo. “The students were engaged, and their many questions were perceptive and insightful. I left feeling as if we imparted why an independent, fair, and impartial judiciary was relevant and important to them.”
The presentation covered the history of the Judicial Branch and the importance of maintaining an independent judiciary. Christo and Robinson personalized the law to their audience, giving an example comparing the price of consuming an alcoholic beverage at 21 against the price if caught consuming the same beverage underage. Students were particularly interested in the impact of vicarious trauma on the mental health of judges and lawyers, as well as how judges ensure their impartiality.
On March 6, two outreach events were held in Jaffrey and Nashua. In the morning, New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald and Attorney John Garvey spoke to juniors and seniors from Conant High School in Jaffrey. The presentation was interactive, with many comments and questions from the students in attendance.
“The students were great,” states Garvey, who was the founding director of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program at the UNH School of Law. “They were engaged and asked many thoughtful, probing questions. It was energizing.”
Particular attention was paid to the process of becoming a judge, and how the nomination and confirmation procedure in New Hampshire was different from the federal court system and the methods that are used in other states. When asked for their opinions on the recently proposed constitutional amendment to raise the mandatory retirement age of judges in NH to 75, many shared the feeling that the retirement age should stay at 70, with one student remarking to Chief Justice MacDonald, “No offense, but it is a young person’s world.”
The staff at Conant High School were thrilled at the opportunity to offer this experience to their students, and the event ended with a senior asking to take a photo for the yearbook.
In the afternoon, New Hampshire Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn and Attorney David Tencza spoke with members of the Nashua Rotary at the Nashua Country Club. Attendance was higher than expected, with some Rotary members attending virtually. During the question-and-answer portion of the presentation, attendees were mostly interested in Colburn’s experience as a judge.
“I enjoyed speaking to the Nashua Rotary Club,” Judge Colburn says. “It was a great opportunity to reflect on the basics of democracy, the importance of three equal branches of government, and why our system is so vital to their professional and personal endeavors.”
On March 7, there were two events. The first was with US District Court Judge Joseph Laplante and Attorney Julian Jefferson speaking to leadership and board members at Catholic Medical Center. The second was NH Superior Court Judge John Kissinger and Attorney Catherine Flinchbaugh at the Merrimack County Superior Courthouse at a public event hosted by the Concord Chamber of Commerce.
NJOW concluded on March 9 with a public presentation by Judge Charles Temple and Attorney Michael Iacopino at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. National Judicial Outreach Week, an initiative of the American Bar Association since 2017, is observed annually from March 1-10, with the recurring theme, “Preserving the Rule of Law.” The New Hampshire Judicial Branch expects to participate annually in the future.
Editor’s Note: As this issue of Bar News went to print on March 8, and the article was written on March 7, the entirety of NJOW could not be covered. A follow-up article will be included in the next issue.