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Bar News - September 21, 2007

Judge Hampsey Retires: Many Will Miss “Hampsification”



Judge Bernard J. Hampsey, Jr

Superior Court Judge Bernard J. Hampsey, Jr., who is retiring in October, sits in his office at the Hillsborough County South courthouse in Nashua, the morning sun slanting into a room that has been his home-away-from home for 15 of the last 17 years.  “These people are like family to me,” he says, speaking of the judges and staff he has worked with through the years.  He gazes fondly around the room at his books and pictures—and at the conference table where so many human dramas have been discussed and resolved.


“I’ll really miss sitting for the superior court,” Hampsey says.  “I think the issue of mandatory retirement should be revisited. We are so in need of judges; just here in Nashua we have lost Judge Brennan and myself—and soon we’ll lose David Sullivan.  [Judge Sullivan will be going to senior active status on October 1, 2007.]  That leaves only Judge Groff—and the Chief Justice of the Superior Court, Bob Lynn, seems to be everywhere!  I don’t know how he does it.” 


In fact, Judge Lynn has been sitting regularly in Nashua since he became Chief Justice in 2004 and he’s gotten to know Judge Hampsey, “as both a colleague and friend.”  Lynn says that he and all his colleagues on the superior court, “will miss greatly his humor, his compassion, his sense of fair play, and his common-sense approach to the law.” 


Of course, everyone—including especially lawyers and litigants—will be saddened by the loss of ‘Hampsification’—that unique and unexplainable technique utilized by Judge Hampsey to effect settlement of particularly difficult cases.”


What exactly happens in “Hampsification”?  It means that lawyers—and litigants—in a case may be swept up into Judge Hampsey’s practical, no-nonsense method of solving problems.  For lawyers, it often means Judge Hampsey will tell them just to talk to each other; he often uses his influence and his persuasive personality to get them to sit down together, forget about the billable hours and think about how to solve their case without going to trial.  Some lawyers have even asked to be “Hampsified” especially if they get along well together, but their clients do not.


Judge Hampsey’s  basic philosophy is that lawyers should make a greater effort to get together before the court date, face-to-face, no phone calls, no e-mails—just one-on-one, to try to resolve their differences.


Helping the Court after Retirement


“Because he’ll be retiring at the mandatory age of 70, we will not be able to bring him back in senior status to hear criminal matters or to conduct jury trials,” says Lynn.  “However, he will be able to continue to sit as a judicial referee in issues to court cases and will be able to chair medical screening panels.  In fact, I have already appointed him to chair several screening panel cases.”


“I’ll put my experience to use in mediation and in other ways,” says Hampsey.  “I’ll help however I can.  Our court used to have the reputation of being the most efficient in the country, but now we are really in bad shape.  We have such a backlog of cases.”


Shortage of Judges Critical


As noted in a recent Bar News article (Sept. 7, 2007), the reduction in the number of superior court judges to 19, three less than the recommended limit, has caused serious delays in the movement of civil cases—and criminal caseloads for all judges have continued to grow. 


Nominations by the governor to fill vacancies on the superior court were hoped for after the meeting of the Executive Council on Sept. 5, but none were forthcoming.  Even after such nominations are made, however, it can be months before new judges take the bench, since confirmation hearings, orientation and training are all a part of the process.  In the meantime, dockets continue to overflow.


Hampsey was appointed to the superior court in 1990 by Gov. Judd Gregg, but   actually began his career on the bench in 1968 when he was appointed presiding justice of the Jaffrey District Court by Gov. King.  At that time he was also a partner in the Peterborough firm of Brighton, Fernald, Taft & Hampsey.


Hampsey and Robert Taft are still close friends. “The Honorable Bernard J. Hampsey, Jr., good friend and former law partner, is one of the most remarkable persons I have ever met,” Taft said.  “His ability to resolve and settle a dispute and his remarkable wit are beyond belief.  We’re lucky to have him back here in the Monadnock area.”


“It was hard being a district court judge and practicing law at the same time,” Hampsey says, “but I managed.  Before I became a district court judge, I was very involved in my community.  I was also the town moderator and moderator of the Jaffrey-Rindge school district.  It took three people to fill my positions when I left,” he laughed.  “But I look forward to becoming involved in the community again now that I am retiring.”


Hampsey moved to New Hampshire after marrying Jean Letourneau, a native of Jaffrey whom he met on a blind date while both were still in college, he at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. and she at Regis College in Weston.  Jean, who has been his wife for 47 years, is a retired school teacher and organist.  She was employed as the organist for the world-famous Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge for 25 years—and still plays regularly at St. Patrick’s Church in Jaffrey.                          

“We’ll travel some after I retire; we’ve visited Ireland many times and plan to go again next year—only this time we’ll take the grandkids with us,” says Hampsey, who is very proud of his Irish heritage.


A man with a big sense of humor, but a small sense of his own importance, Judge Hampsey made lawyers and litigants alike care more about the law and the justice system than they did before they came into his court.  He will be greatly missed.

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