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Bar News - September 21, 2007

Morning Mail


A Farewell Note from Marital Master Harriet Fishman


Editor’s note:  Marital Master Harriet Fishman retired from the Rockingham County Family Division. Her last day on the bench was Sept. 6, and she asked the Bar News to publish this letter directed to the NH legal community.


My employment as a Marital Master began in April of 1991. Since that time, there have been massive changes to the practice of family law: from an overhaul of the administration and rules governing practice to the ever-increasing adversarial posture of the participants, rendering the goal of amicable resolution between the parties and individual acceptance of the process quite difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. This appears to be true regardless of the appearance of counsel.


No one “wins” in the cases heard by the masters. However, over the past half a dozen years, I have observed an increasing number of participants who ratchet up the tenor of the proceedings, the result of which is that they are unable to understand and/or accept their”losses.”  Their strident posturing renders a rejection of anything short of complete acquiescence by the Court.


Each of my colleagues takes their professional responsibilities quite seriously. We understand and accept the difficulty of the process for the litigants and the intensity shouldered by counsel who practice family law. What I question is the level of understanding/appreciation that the parties and, more importantly, counsel have for those of us who hear these cases ‘round the clock. Counsel sit in a unique position of educating their clients about the entire process, reminding themselves that we are all mortal and maintaining professional and dignified relations with opposing counsel. Counsels’ ability to communicate this to their clients can do wonders towards reducing the acrimony during the pendency of proceedings. I challenge you to make this a part of your agenda in every case. I challenge you to maintain positive and professional relations with your colleagues.


One aspect of the marital master position which I have continually struggled with is the necessity for isolation from the Bar.  Without the ever-present support and affection from my colleagues, I would have been incapable of maintaining my employment.  I am truly humbled by this realization.   To my Master colleagues and friends, your collective intelligence, sensitivity, and ethics render me proud to have held the title, Marital Master.  I want to publicly express my sincere gratitude for your support, wisdom and friendship.


For counsel who practice in front of me, I have come to know and respect your work. This makes saying goodbye difficult. I will miss seeing you, but the time is right for me to leave.


Finally, there are many court employees, both past and present, to acknowledge and thank, both   those who work in the Superior Court and the Family Division. These individuals   work tirelessly to assist you and your clients. They receive little reward for their efforts. I am so fortunate to have found true friends amongst many of these wonderful individuals. I will miss all of you.


Yet, my greatest sadness will be losing my daily dose of Rhonda Scully, the Deputy Clerk of the Portsmouth Family Division. Over the past ten years, she has made all the difference in my professional world; she has been my link towards maintaining some balance in this job. Most importantly, I feel so fortunate to have her friendship. Rhonda is a “salt of the earth” woman. Counsel, please treat her well - very, very well.


Thank you,

Harriet Fishman



Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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