Bar News - January 19, 2007
Judge Mohl Leaves Bench after Two Decades of Service
By: By Thomas R. Kressler
After nearly 20 years on the bench, Strafford County Superior Court Judge Bruce Mohl, whom many call a highly skilled and innovative judge, will retire this month.
Though his official last day is sometime in February, unused vacation time will allow Mohl, a 61-year-old father of two, to hang up the robe on Jan. 16. His send-off will be appropriate. On that day, he will preside over the last drug court graduation of his career, an alternative-sentencing program Mohl spearheaded and considers his proudest achievement as a superior court judge.
“If there’s one thing that I leave here feeling proud about, it’s having helped establish the first adult drug court in the state,” Mohl said, during an interview inside his judges chambers. “It’s important on several levels. It’s important because it’s the right thing to do in the right cases. It’s important because it saves money ... the reality is there are ways to address the criminality that do not involve incarceration.”
Mohl, a Durham resident, was appointed to the superior court in late 1987 and began full-time in January of 1988. At that time, justices floated between courthouses, and it was not until late 1992 that Mohl staked his permanent seat as the Strafford County Superior Court supervisory judge.
Prior to his appointment as a superior court judge, Mohl served as the state’s deputy attorney general from 1985 to 1988, under then attorney general and former governor Stephen Merrill. He worked in that office prior to becoming deputy AG, and also worked in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office sometime after obtaining his law degree from Boston University.
But it was as a judge, sitting before hundreds of trials, and hearing countless cases in the Superior Court of Strafford County where he was at home.
“For a lawyer, I think it’s the greatest job in the state. A trial court is a place where you never quite know what’s going to happen,” Mohl said. “I will miss the people and the courthouse greatly.”
Mohl said in his time at Strafford County, the court has progressed.
“I think we’ve tried to make this courthouse as open and accessible as possible. I think we’ve developed a model for how a court ought to operate,” Mohl said.
Chairman of the Strafford County Board of Commissioners George Maglaras praised Mohl as an innovative judge, whose support for alternative sentencing programs, including drug court, has helped transform the criminal justice system in Strafford County.
“I guess the bottom line is Mohl gets it and we need more judges like that. We’ll miss him,” Maglaras said. “He was certainly a huge asset to Strafford County as it relates to us changing the face of the criminal justice system here. You can’t do it without an active judiciary branch and Mohl certainly took the lead on that for us here.”
Drug court is essentially a plea agreement reached between prosecutors and defense attorneys that diverts non-violent drug offenders away from jail or prison and into a rigorous rehabilitation program. Periodically, those enrolled in the program come before a judge to provide an update on their progress. For those who complete the roughly yearlong program, a graduation is held, often marked by a special ceremony at the courthouse.
Though some ultimately fail, Mohl says he is in it for the success stories.
“It is enormously gratifying to see someone who has been addicted to cocaine or heroin for years be able to put their lives back together,” Mohl said. “It’s an enormously difficult task and the drug court program is one of the hardest programs in the state.”
Mohl, a New York native, will relocate to Meredith upon his retirement, where he owns a summer home. In the immediate future, he and his wife, Marian Tucker, a retired teacher at Moharimet Elementary School, will do some traveling to places warm. A competitive swimmer, Mohl said he will continue to be active with the Great Bay Masters Swimming Club, and otherwise enjoy a life less rigorous.
He does not expect to receive any permanent judicial appointments, such as a seat on the state’s supreme court.
“I don’t expect to be a full-time judge in any court in the future,” Mohl said. “I’m retiring so that I’m not working full-time.”
But he will not be leaving the judiciary entirely. He will remain as a Senior Associate Justice, available to fill temporary vacancies when requested by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The position also prohibits him from going into private practice.
“It’s an opportunity to remain on the superior court as a senior justice, but not work full-time. It’s sort of the best of both worlds,” Mohl said. He also plans to do some private mediation, a process of resolving disputes outside of a courtroom.
Strafford County Superior Court Clerk Julie Howard called Mohl “incredibly bright,” and said he is considered a highly skilled jurist.
“He is very decisive. I think what people say about him is he makes a decision and there’s no rearguing it. It gives a clear road map in the case,” Howard said. “He is respectful of people but yet he has control of his courtroom.”
Judge Peter Fauver will take over as Supervisory Judge of Strafford County Superior Court, and Judge Steven Houran will fill the seat left vacant by Mohl’s retirement. Fauver is also expected to retire sometime this year, though no official announcement has been made.
Under state regulations, Superior Court judges have a mandatory retirement age of 70.
“I could stay until I’m 70, but I think 20 years is about enough,” Mohl said.
This article is reprinted with permission from Foster’s Daily Democrat; it was previously published Jan 8, 2007 and can be found online at www.fosters.com.