Bar News - September 8, 2006
Former Judge Opens Law Firm with Sister
By: Anita S. Becker
Patricia L. DiMeo
When Special Justice Patricia L. DiMeo, formerly of the Exeter District Court, stepped down from the bench in July she stepped into a new phase of her legal career. DiMeo and her attorney sister, Paula DiMeo Grant, a Washington, DC-based mediator, established the DiMeo & Grant Law Office and Mediation Service in Derry in January.
In a resignation letter submitted to Gov. John Lynch earlier this summer, DiMeo called her time serving as a judge “a challenging and rewarding experience I will cherish for a lifetime.” At the time, she did not give a specific reason in the letter for her decision to leave the court Aug. 1, 2006.
“There were a lot of factors that went into my decision to leave,” says DiMeo, who was a special justice in the state for 18 years. “I wanted to focus on the practice of law, I was tired of the traveling [from court to court], I wanted more control over my schedule, and I wanted to spend more time with my daughter.”
A single mother, DiMeo explains that the tipping point that led to her decision to resign as a part-time judge and focus full-time effort on her own law firm came when the Judicial Branch cut back the number of hours she, and other special justices, could work as part of a system-wide cost-saving measure. “I had always been classified as part-time but the cut in hours due to the weighted caseload was significant.”
“I absolutely loved being a judge and I loved the many different people you deal with, but factors in my life converged which made me want to concentrate more on practicing the law,” says DiMeo. “I enjoyed my tenure on the bench, but I felt that it was time for a change. This is the time for me to do what I want to do. “
A registered nurse in the Boston area for 17 years, DiMeo attended the New England School of Law and passed the Massachusetts Bar exam in 1983. The same year she moved to New Hampshire and in 1984 became a NH Bar member. She was appointed a special justice in 1989 and, for the most part, her home court was Exeter District Court. However, most of the cases she heard were in the district courts of Nashua and Rochester. From 1996 through 2002, she began to hear Family Division cases in Derry, and occasionally Portsmouth or Salem, and worked virtually full-time due to the overtime her caseload required. Although she went back to hearing non-family division cases until she left the bench in late July, her time on the family court shaped her new practice.
“I’m really having fun now. I connected with the kids [in the family and district courts] and I have centered my practice on family law and smaller criminal cases,” says DiMeo. “I like handling cases at the community level.” In addition to her law practice, she mentors school children in the Derry area. “I want to do even more volunteer work in the future to help kids. I’m not restricted as much in what I can do as I was while being a judge.”
While she was a judge, DiMeo felt that she was often in a position to help youths straighten out their lives. “You are not there just to punish them for doing something wrong; you are giving them an opportunity to learn to do the right thing,” she says. “If they are 16 or 17 years old and it’s the first time and it’s something minor, I tried to give them a one-time break. I would usually give them a big fine, and, if they had dropped out of school, order them to work on their GED, and then have them come back and see me in 30 days. When they do what they are told and turn themselves around, it is very satisfying; when they don’t, then it is on them; they had their chance.”
DiMeo says that family cases, especially those involving child abuse, are often the most difficult kinds of cases she’s handled as a judge. “You can’t get immune to it, you often hear things that will bring you down for the rest of the day,” she says. “You get yourself through it by focusing on the facts of the case and tailoring the sentence to the specific situation. As a judge, you have to do your best to do what is in the best interest of the child.”