Bar News - August 11, 2006
Longtime County Attorneys Turn the Page in Careers
By: Anita S. Becker
The choice not to run for re-election by two longtime county attorneys
—Pierre J. Morin of Coos County and Lauren J. Noether of Belknap County—signals a significant change ahead in leadership and prosecutorial style in both counties. While voters in each region weigh the options in a three-way Belknap County race, and an uncontested race and familiar face in Coos County (see “Contests Develop in County Courthouse Races,” page 1, July 21, 2006, Bar News), the two incumbent county attorneys are mulling their future plans and looking back at the peaks and valleys of a difficult, emotion-laden job.
One thing both prosecutors have in common is a victim-oriented perspective on the many domestic violence and child sexual abuse cases they
handle regularly. Both are distressed by the frequency and intensity of these types of crimes. Many of these cases involve volatile and complex family dynamics, which makes it difficult to obtain necessary evidence and credible witness testimony for trial.
Morin says that trying domestic violence and sexual abuse cases, especially those involving children, is challenging and satisfying at the same time. “What really stands out for me over all these years is the satisfaction that you get when the victim of a crime are vindicated and you can tell that you made a difference in their lives.” He says that this feeling does not always stem from cases where the defendant is convicted, but explains, “whether or not I got a conviction, the things I remember are a big “thank you” or note from child sexual assault victims who are just grateful that someone believes in them.
“As a county attorney you’re involved with sending a lot of people to be incarcerated,” says Morin. “It is not the easiest thing to be responsible for sending people to prison. You don’t really relish it, but you do feel a sense of accomplishment in having vindicated the victim.”
Like Morin, Noether believes that vindicating victims, especially those in child sexual assault and domestic violence cases, is both the best and worst part of her job as the county’s prosecutor. “It is rewarding when a victim is vindicated and comes through the ordeal a stronger person.” She adds that personal interaction is what allows her to cope with a very high-pressure job. “I take a lot of my inspiration from the strength of victims and my motivation from the people I work with.”
The thing Noether is proudest of professionally and considers her “legacy” is the development of a team approach to child abuse cases. Under the “team” concept, the state Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), the justice system, and law enforcement work together to minimize the impact on the victim; including requiring fewer, yet coordinated interviews of juvenile witnesses/victims, so that children do not have to go from agency to agency to provide often redundant information about their cases to authorities.
Noether was instrumental in creating the Greater Child Advocacy Center in Laconia, an organization that offers emotional support to child victims and non-offending family members while at the same time gathering as much evidence as possible in an efficient and compassionate way to lessen the stress on the victim. She credits Barbara Belmont, the region’s victim witness coordinator for spearheading the effort to establish the center. Noether was also involved in the founding of New Beginnings, a local advocacy group focused on preventing domestic abuse.
Pierre J. Morin
A member of the NHBA Board of Governors, representing Coos County, Deputy County Attorney Keith W. Clouatre, an independent, will run unopposed in the general election for county attorney to succeed Morin, also an independent, who has been in the post since 1967.
Until eight years ago, Morin was the part-time county attorney and operated a solo law practice in Berlin. The position became full-time in 1998. On leaving office, the 68-year-old Morin says that after 40 years of service, “it’s time for someone else to do it.”
A Berlin native, Morin has spent most of his life in the North Country, with diversions for college and the military. He went to Boston University for law school and Boston College for a BA in history and government. He also spent two years of service in the U.S. Army, serving in Japan, South Korea, and Thailand in the early years of the Vietnam War. “I decided as a sophomore in high school that I would like to go into law. I had dug ditches and worked in a mill and knew I didn’t want to spend my life doing that. My father had a friend who was an attorney and I decided that was what I wanted to do, and I followed through.”
Morin plans to stay in office until the new county attorney takes over. Morin says that he looks back fondly at the personal relationships he has made over the years with judges and other attorneys.
One of the things he won’t miss is the traveling from court to court. When Morin first became county attorney, court was in session only twice a year in Coos County. The rest of the year, to prosecute a case he had to travel to the counties of Grafton, Merrimack or Hillsborough (which was only in Manchester at the time).
Currently, there is a rotating schedule of judges that sit monthly at the Coos County District Court, where up until last winter—when the Family Court was introduced at the Superior Court—it was full-time. The Family Court has taken over the county’s family law cases. Although it reduced the court’s caseload by 50 percent, Morin says the reduction in judge hours lessens any gains the loss in marital cases might have provided to ease the remaining caseload.
Running for election never bothered Morin, who has won 20 consecutive terms in office. “The politics of the job are not that big a deal for me.” He has only been opposed twice within his tenure.
“I love to ski and plan to do more of it,” says Morin of his future plans. “I also have half-a-dozen grandchildren to spend time with.” He wants to stay active in the community as well. He is a former attorney for the Guardian Angel Credit Union in Berlin and is on its board of directors, and he is involved with the Berlin school board. He also plans to keep his hand in the field of law. He is not sure at this point what that might entail, but says, “I might do a little something part-time, if someone has something interesting to offer.”
Lauren J. Noether
Following Lauren Noether’s surprise decision (she announced the day before the filing deadline she was not going to run) to leave the County Attorney’s office to take a staff attorney position at the NH Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau, two Republicans and one Democrat have filed for the post. On the Republican side, Wayne Coull, Belknap Deputy County Attorney, and Kenneth Anderson, a former Grafton County Attorney with a home in Gilford, have filed for the position. James Carroll, former police department prosecutor for Laconia, will run as a Democrat.
The longtime prosecutor begins her new position on September 4.
Noether, a Republican, has been serving as the Belknap County Attorney since 1993 and has been a prosecutor in the state for 21 years. She received her JD from Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord and began her career out of law school at the Rinden Law Office in Concord; she also worked at a small firm in Somersworth owned by Charles Burkham, which she took over when he left to become mayor of that city. In 1985 she joined the Laconia Police Department as its attorney/prosecutor and held that post for six years. She was the deputy Merrimack County attorney for 18 months when she was selected by the Belknap County Commissioners to serve out the remainder of Edward Fitzgerald’s term in Belknap County when he became a judge. “He was elected in November  and appointed a judge in December, I took over from him in January.” She was then elected to the two-year position in her own right four more times over a 13-year-plus span.
One of the ways in which she’s put her stamp on the office is to actively seek input from victims and police in sentencing. She says this is especially important in cases involving child sex abuse casesBecause the jurisdiction is located in the heart of the state’s Lakes Region, many cases involve boating deaths. “Some of the cases I have done are exceptionally interesting,” says Noether, pointing to two separate maritime-related negligent homicide verdicts. She references State v. Patera in 1993 when she won a jury conviction on a theory of negligence other than alcohol; and a case she assisted Coull with in 2003, State v. Littlefield, another precedent-setting conviction on a gross negligence theory.
Another trial she cannot forget is a domestic violence case. In State v. Dean, 1996, where an armed man forcibly confined his family inside their house by threatening them with death, Noether says that a taped 911 call used as evidence in the trial is etched in her mind. It captured the terrified pleas of Thomas Dean’s wife and children when a dispatcher left the phone-line open for six hours during the police stand-off with the man.
“You could hear the children pleading with their father, telling him that they loved him. Over time the pleas became cries and then almost animal noises in their desperation. You could hear the hysteria in all of their voices. That piece of evidence has stayed with me. It gave me a sense of what really was happening in the home, the terrorism in that house. Usually you can’t see the tears and the contorted faces during the ordeal.”
She is proud of the large number of cases her office has dispatched through the court. “I think I have developed an exceedingly effective staff in the 13 years that I have been here,” says Noether. “There is a lot of trial experience in this office.” Her staff of attorneys includes Assistant County Attorney Lori Christman and Coull, who has served as deputy county attorney since January 1997 and prior to that spent two years serving as an assistant county attorney in Grafton County. Noether herself has 171 jury trial presentations under her belt; Coull has 116; and Christman, who joined the office three years ago, has 25.
Noether is looking forward to starting her new position, which will focus primarily on administrative law with some litigation. “I am going to something equally challenging but not as emotionally charged. I ended up in the criminal realm [of law], which means a lot of nights and weekends away from my family. I get paged every time there is a homicide or major crime. It will be great to have some of my life back to spend with my family,” says Noether, jokingly adding, “I gave at the office for the past 21 years.” More seriously, she says, “I will certainly miss the trial pace and the people I work with in the office and law enforcement officials, and federal and local domestic violence task forces.”