Bar News - February 22, 2008
Judge Laplante Recalls Mentoring Throughout Career
By: Dan Wise
At his Feb. 1 ceremonial swearing in, the newest federal district court judge in New Hampshire, Judge Joseph N. Laplante, was the subject of glowing tributes by those he has worked with during his 18-year legal career. When it was his turn to speak, the former advocate delivered a persuasive summation on the importance of mentors – in life and in the law.
Already on the job for the month of January, Hon. Joseph Laplante took the federal judicial oath before a packed courthouse of family and friends at a formal ceremony on Feb 1. The oath was administered by Laplante's father-in-law, Joseph A. Fiore, an attorney in New York state. Laplante's wife, Carol, looks on.
Despite a persistent snow that made traveling difficult, the high-ceilinged ceremonial Courtroom 3 of the Warren B. Rudman Federal Courthouse was jammed with colleagues, family and friends of Laplante – including many from law enforcement, a testament to Laplante’s reputation as “a cop’s prosecutor.”
Speakers – US Senator Judd Gregg, US Attorney Thomas Colantuono and Hon. Gary Hicks, a NH Supreme Court Associate Justice who was a partner at Wiggin & Nourie where Laplante started his legal career – lauded Laplante’s work ethic and intelligence. NH Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and John Kacavas, former colleagues at the NH Attorney General’s office and close friends, provided insights into Laplante’s personality and values.
Even Chief Judge Steven McAuliffe, before whom Laplante often appeared in court as a prosecutor for the US Attorney’s Office, joined in the accolades, commenting on his advocacy and compassion. (McAuliffe has followed Laplante’s career for some time. The judge noted that Laplante had received the NH Bar Foundation’s Robert E. Kirby Award in 2001 – an award presented to an attorney 35 years or younger recognizing excellence in advocacy and civility. Ayotte (2004) and Kacavas (1996) also have received the honor.)
When it was his time to speak, Laplante recognized many mentors who have helped him, and emphasized his roots in the community. He noted that the judicial robes he had newly donned were not new – they had belonged to the late William H. Barry, who served many years as federal Magistrate Judge for the District of NH. Judge Barry was a fellow Nashuan, someone who lived in the same neighborhood where Laplante grew up. “I never had the sense that “Mr.” Barry – he never asked anyone to call him “Judge” – the judge who lived down the street, made anyone around him feel unimportant. My goal is to wear this robe with the same humility,” Laplante said.
Laplante said his first mentor was his father, Normand Laplante, who he said, “could build anything, and fix anything. I was all thumbs but he taught me so much, and he and my mother gave me a great start by making sacrifices for my benefit. I came out of law school debt-free – and I knew how unique that was, and the freedom it afforded me. I was able to make choices, like public service and criminal prosecution, based on job satisfaction rather than an obligation to pay down student debt.”
Another key mentor for Laplante was attorney Gerald Prunier – another “neighborhood dad” who helped Laplante realize that a lawyer was something he could be. Prunier was Laplante’s “rec league” and CYO basketball coach and he helped reinforce to Laplante the importance of “hustle.” “Show up every day; go to every practice; play with intensity; and never, ever let up. And he really lived it.”
“In high school and college, I did not have a lot of mentors (because I thought I knew everything), but I had a lot of friends,” said Laplante. “I know it sounds pathetic to many of you, but I still hang around with the same guys as I did in high school.”
At his first legal job, at Wiggin & Nourie, Laplante cited a number of mentors and the firm’s commitment to professionalism: “I learned about professionalism – putting someone else’s interests ahead of your own, for a living. I learned how to treat other members of the profession, as well as those we serve: our clients.” He cited Thomas Pappas and Arnold Rosenblatt, who counseled him to be “uncompromising” in the standard of his work product, and Anthony Marts who urged him to “be yourself” in that it was “OK to be a little unconventional.”
“Richard McNamara taught me the difference between a trial lawyer and a litigator, and from Jon Ross, I learned important lessons about negotiating: ‘There’s nothing wrong with taking a reasonable position from the outset and sticking to it rather than being a moving target.’ He also taught me to develop the ability to say ‘no’ to people, and not to fear confrontation.”
After three years, Laplante – who had considered joining the FBI out of law school – followed his true calling and joined the Attorney General’s Office. He rose rapidly in the ranks in the criminal prosecution side, and became a top homicide prosecutor, often teamed up with Kacavas. Laplante cited lessons learned about courtroom advocacy from the then-Criminal Bureau Chief Michael Ramsdell. Kacavas, too, was a mentor. “We worked so closely together. Once a judge asked us during a pretrial, ‘Who’s lead counsel in this case?’ We both said, ‘I am,’” Laplante said with a laugh.
Another Nashua native and friend, Ayotte, joined the Attorney General’s office too – and Laplante said he played the role of mentor to her. “I told her – don’t shrink back, take everything on. That’s how you’ll learn.”
At the US Attorney’s Office, first in Boston and then in NH, Laplante found himself in managerial roles and serving on collaborative task forces with other law enforcement agencies. He said he cherished the experience of working side-by-side on one case with a high school buddy, a Nashua police detective temporarily assigned to the DEA as a Task Force Agent.
Laplante acknowledged that his impatience with bureaucracy at times made him an imperfect manager after he was named First Assistant US Attorney under Colantuono. “At the US Attorney’s Office, my decision-making style was to make a snap decision from my gut, based on limited information – and then run down to [Civil Bureau Chief] Gretchen Witt’s office to ask her if the damage was irreparable.”
Laplante acknowledged that in his new role as a judge he had already been the beneficiary of mentoring from his colleagues, Judges McAuliffe and Barbadoro, Senior Judge DiClerico, Circuit Judge Howard and Magistrate Judge James Muirhead. Laplante also singled out for praise his law clerk of one month, Ken Sansone, for his assistance at the start of Laplante’s judicial career.
Laplante closed his remarks by addressing his four children sitting in the jury box with his wife, Carol Fiore (also a Bar member). “Hearing and seeing all of this, you must think your father has a pretty important job,” he said, his voice shifting to a gentler tone. “Just never forget – it’s not as important as the job your mother does for you, and for us, every single day. We, all four of us, would be lost without her. Especially me.”