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Bar News - January 6, 2006

Justice Nadeau Retires—but Don’t Bring Out the Hammock Yet


“I think the creative spirit is inborn,” says Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Nadeau, looking back on his 43 years as a member of the Bar, 37 of those years spent as a judge.  “But accepting the challenge of problem-solving is more likely the result of education and experience.”


After his retirement in December, Nadeau plans to continue “problem-solving” on the international level.  He has worked for several years with CEELI (the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative), a public service project of the ABA that promotes the rule of law and supports legal reform in Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East.  Nadeau is on the CEELI Advisory Board and hopes to travel to Slovakia again, where he spent time in June—and to Algeria in the near future.


Of course, his friends and colleagues are used to Nadeau’s globetrotting—and are not surprised to hear that he will be off again.  He is well known in legal circles for his outgoing personality that reflects a very real interest in the welfare of others.  They may tease him about his trips to the Caribbean and that tan that never goes away, but they all know, too, about the hours he has spent in various conference rooms around the world to help emerging nations become more democratic.


A graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, Dartmouth College and Boston University Law School, Nadeau joined the NH Bar in 1962. He practiced as an attorney with Burns, Bryant, Hinchey & Nadeau until 1971 and served as justice of Durham District Court from 1968-1981.  In 1981 he was appointed to the NH Superior Court as an associate justice, and in 1992 he was named Chief Justice.  He served in that position until his appointment in 2000 to the Supreme Court.


Always Wanted To Be a Lawyer


“I pretty much always wanted to be a lawyer,” says Nadeau.  “The law and what it represents were very important to my family.  Both sets of grandparents came to the United States around 1905 and they recognized the importance of the law and government in their personal lives and for society as a whole…. 


“My parents both had to work to help support large families, so neither went to college.   To them, the most important parental responsibility was the education of their three sons.”


Nadeau has always prized his education.  Of his senior year at Phillips, he says, “I was fortunate to have the most feared/demanding/revered and inspiring English teacher at the academy.  I learned the importance of words and how to use them.”


As a result of his teacher’s influence, Nadeau decided to major in English at Dartmouth.  “Everyone I talked with felt that there were no skills more valuable to a legal career than reading comprehension and the ability to write well.”


The gift of clear, precise communication has served Nadeau well.  However, as much as he values his education, looking back, Nadeau says, “I have been lucky.  My work has reflected a partnership with a lot of people—lawyers, clerks, administrators—I’ve had a great bunch of people to work with.”


Superior Court Initiatives

In speaking of the changes that occurred while he was Chief Justice of the Superior Court (1992-2000), Nadeau praises the many volunteers who gave so unselfishly of their time and efforts to make things better.


While Nadeau headed the superior court, he oversaw the implementation and expansion of the Rule 170 mediation program that used attorneys as volunteer mediators to help settle cases, thus avoiding time-consuming trials. Nadeau mentions the contributions of then-Sullivan County Superior Court Clerk Peter  Wolfe, in particular, who put the program in place. (See article on Wolfe’s new job on page 24.)  “About 80 percent of all cases are eventually settled and they can be cleared early in the process if alternative methods of dispute resolution are available,” says Nadeau.  “Mediation calls for an immediate and final decision; part of the problem back then was the number of continuances asked for—we had to get tough on those; whenever an attorney asked for a continuance, we rescheduled the case right then and there, and within the shortest possible time.”


The court instituted case management training programs and pretrial conferences to help attorneys prepare their cases more expeditiously.  Within three years the backlog was cleared: in fact, according to the National Center for State Courts, NH led the country in rates of case disposition in the late 1990s.


Also while he was chief justice, Nadeau made judges’ assignments to counties more or less permanent.  Initially, judges spent three months at one site (county) and then moved on to another.  Nadeau assigned the judges on a more permanent basis.  “I wanted them to become invested in the lives of their counties, to take a greater interest in the communities they served.”


The Academy Program

 Nadeau speaks very highly of the alternative sentencing program, The Academy Program, initially developed by Judge Morrill and Nadeau. This program continues today in just about every county. Instead of sending all offenders directly to jail, the Academy Program allows judges to grant a year’s suspended sentence—a year in which the offender must pursue some kind of education, address drug and/or alcohol problems and get a job; during this period, he or she must appear once a month before a judge who monitors his or her progress.


Sullivan County was the pioneer.  “Some of those involved in other counties were afraid that if someone charged became a repeat offender, the officials participating in the program would be blamed, and subject to adverse media coverage.  I told them, ‘I’ll stand beside you at any press conference if you’re confronted by any failure of this system.’”


Men and women alike were grateful for the chance to start over rather than having to go to jail, Nadeau says.  Women in particular would often say, “Thank you so much for this program.  At the end of a year I have my life back—I have my children, I have a job and a place to live….”


Supreme Court and 3JX Orders


In 2000, Nadeau was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The transition from Superior Court to Supreme Court was made more difficult as a result of the impeachment proceedings going on at the time of Nadeau’s appointment. “It was a difficult time for the court and a challenging one for me,” Nadeau says.  “Luckily, my good friend and colleague, Linda Dalianis, was appointed to the court within about five weeks of my appointment, so we could rely upon each other to manage the transition and to keep the court on track.”


As a Supreme Court justice, Nadeau worked with the other justices to develop the 3-judge expedited (3JX) process to fast-track cases of a non-precedential nature. “In these cases [argued before a three-judge panel] the briefs are shorter and arguments are limited to five minutes; the decisions in these cases are not precedent,” says Nadeau.  “Where a case has precedential value or may be instructive, it will be heard by the full court.”


In a 3JX case, opinions are usually issued within 30 days.  In addition, the justices make a concerted attempt to decide by the end of December all cases argued through October of that year.


Separation of Powers and World Justice Efforts


Judge Nadeau’s deep interest in the separation of powers and his concern for the rule of law has become a constant in his life.  “The separation of powers doesn’t mean people don’t work together to reach common goals,” he says.  “It just means that each branch will keep its independence; you can have interaction and still preserve the integrity of the three branches.”


“I went to Latvia in 1993—and since then I have participated in legal reform programs involving almost all the countries in the region. We try to help judges adjust when the judiciary develops some independence from the executive branch.  They have lived for years under systems that we would see as corrupted by undue outside influences in many instances and outright intimidation in others. For instance, under the old ways, a judge’s son might not get accepted into the university or get the job he wanted unless the judge decided a case a certain way.  Judges have to be taught how to operate in a system that does not have that kind of pressure anymore.”


When Nadeau spent time in Slovakia last June, he and a justice of the Austrian Supreme Court helped a group of Iraqis develop their Constitution.  “I found them to be highly committed to improving the judiciary and very appreciative of democratic judicial principles,” he says. 


However, working with translators is not always easy. “The English language is so precise; not all languages are,” he says.  “And I don’t want the translator to get in the way of my being able to communicate and appreciate the thinking and reasoning of judges and officials in other cultures…. The work takes great patience, but it’s worth it.”


He pauses and adds, “Also—I have come to appreciate even more the importance of the freedom of the press since visiting these countries.  I am willing to tolerate whatever imperfections we perceive the US to have in order to preserve that freedom—it’s so important.”


Nadeau’s wife Catherine, a retired second-grade teacher, will accompany him on some of his CEELI trips.  He also has three daughters, Tina, Diana and Briana, and three grandchildren.  Tina has followed him into the legal profession and is a Superior Court judge.


After visiting Slovakia and Algeria, Nadeau would like to go to the Middle East and Indonesia, also.  “Other nations are eager to find out what we do here,” he says, “and since I go in a non-governmental capacity, it’s easier for me to meet with judges and become friends.  The work is hard—but it’s very rewarding.”


Judge Joseph P. Nadeau discusses his 37-year career as a judge and his retirement plans, which include international justice initiatives. He is pictured in his office at the NH Supreme Court in Concord.


NH Supreme Court Associate Justice Linda Dalianis, right, presented a gift from well-wishers to her longtime colleague, retiring Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nadeau and his wife Cathy. Dalianis and Nadeau’s tenures on the Superior and Supreme Courts closely coincided.



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