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Bar News - January 5, 2007

Judge Batchelder Honored with 2006 Bill of Rights Award



Retired NH Supreme Court Associate Justice William Batchelder was honored for his significant contribution to the cause of civil liberties with the 2006 Bill of Rights Award presented to him by his longtime friend and colleague, retired Superior Court Chief Justice Walter Murphy.


More than 200 people attended the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union’s (NHCLU) annual award dinner, held at The Wayfarer Convention Center in Bedford on Nov. 11, 2006, including the honoree’s children. Murphy spoke of Batchelder’s extraordinary and distinguished career and his lifelong devotion to his family, community, and church.


Retired from the bench since 1995, Batchelder began his private practice of law in Plymouth in 1952 after earning his law degree from Boston University Law School. In 1970, Gov. Walter Peterson named Batchelder to the superior court where he remained until his 1981 appointment to the supreme court.


“Throughout his career, Batchelder was guided by his judicial philosophy that government must never gain the upper hand against the governed, and that every person, no matter how powerless or unpopular, is treated fairly and with dignity,” reads the dedication on the award.


In accepting the award, Batchelder spoke highly of his New Hampshire colleagues and their dedication to the constitution and its values.


“When you begin to feel your civil liberties challenged, bit by bit, piece by piece and a politician asks for a piece of them, it is time to call Claire [Ebel, executive director of the NHCLU] and have her draw a line in the sand—long and wide,” he said


Guest speaker for the event was Michael Greco, immediate past president of the American Bar Association (ABA) and currently a partner with Boston-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham. He acknowledged New Hampshire’s successful campaign to provide legal services for those who cannot afford it.


Greco predicted that eventually the United States will face “civil Gideon,” referring to the 1963 US Supreme Court decision providing access to legal counsel for indigents facing criminal charges. The ABA’s Renaissance and Civic Education Commissions and the Task force on Access to Civil Justice put forth recommendations at the ABA’s 2006 Annual Meeting that in a historic vote—the first time in the organization’s 129-year history—voted unanimously to support the creation of a defined right to civil counsel for America’s poor. He praised Congress for their efforts but said that their appropriation of $390 million falls short of what is truly needed.


Greco also called on the legal community to not only commit resources but to also commit to making this change a reality. “Civil rights is what defines us as a nation,” he said “and even though we have the best legal system, we fall short for the millions of our nation’s most vulnerable, 70 to 80 percent of whose legal needs are unmet every year.”



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