Bar News - May 23, 2008
Law and Order ó Lakes Region Style
By: Gail Ober
| Edward Marshall Gordon
Judge Edward Marshall Gordon runs a tight ship. Just ask the Plymouth man who wrote "some dumb b***h" in the memo section of the check he sent to pay the $120 fine he incurred when he drove an unregistered snowmobile on a highway and was ticketed by a female Fish and Game officer.
The Lakes Region man was sentenced to three days in jail for contempt of court ó a punishment Gordon agreed to suspend providing he wrote letters of apology to the Fish and Game officer and the clerks who processed his check and didnít get into any trouble for one year.
This is just one way the presiding judge of the Franklin District Court and former four-term state senator commands respect, both for him and the law he represents.
"People need to have respect for the court ó the way they act and the way they appear," said the judge, who has been known to ask individuals in his courtroom to change their clothing and to penalize lawyers who forget to silence their cell phones.
"I sent a guy home yesterday in Laconia," said Gordon, grinning as he recalled the look on the manís face who showed up in Laconia District Court a few weeks ago wearing a pair of shorts. "He came back for the afternoon session in long pants and a tie."
While Gordon said he always thought about becoming an attorney, the law is a second career ó one he never embarked on until he was well into his 30s.
A University of New Hampshire graduate with a degree in sociology, after college Gordon went to work for the former New England Telephone and Telegraph and later AT&T as a marketing manager. During his 15 years with them he took advantage of their employee tuition program and went to night school earning, a Masters of Business Administration from Boston College.
"Their buzz word was Ďflexibleí but my wife and family wanted to stay in New Hampshire," he said.
Gordon loved his job but soon realized his unwillingness to relocate translated into limited upward mobility.
"When they offered me an early retirement ó I took it," said Gordon. That meant he needed to find another way to earn a good living.
Gordon enrolled in Franklin Pierce Law School, graduating in 1989 after serving as an intern to First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Hugh H. Bownes. Following graduation, he was a clerk to N.H. Supreme Court Justice David A. Brock.
For 15 years, Gordon practiced law with the Laconia firm of Wescott, Millham & Dyer LLP where he became partner and created what he called a "very good career in estate planning."
"In practice I didnít do a lot of criminal law though I did gain trial experience early on," said Gordon, who juggled a full-time law career with being a lawmaker after his election to the N.H. State House in 1990 and to the Senate in 1992. "Being a state senator really is a full-time job."
During this time, Gordon also became more active in his community, becoming the Bristol Town Moderator and later the Newfound Regional School District Moderator ó two positions he continues to this day.
He was named to the bench in 2005 by Gov. John Lynch and since then has earned the reputation of being tough but fair.
"I have absolute respect for that man. We all do," said Sanbornton Police Chief Mark Barton, whose Belknap County town is in Gordonís jurisdiction thanks to a law Gordon sponsored when he was a senator to include Tilton and Sanbornton in the Franklin District area.
"This is the only [N.H.] court that covers two jurisdictions," said Gordon, who said the measure was intended to ease the case load at the Laconia District Court. Franklin Police Prosecutor Rod Forey appears daily in Gordonís court.
"When you walk into his court you better be ready and you better know the law, because he does," said Forey, who as a former N.H. State Police prosecutor has appeared before nearly every judge in every jurisdiction in the state.
"Whether youíre prosecuting or defending, Gordon is not one of your dreams," said Forey, admitting the closest he ever came to a contempt charge was in his courtroom. "If youíre not prepared, heís a nightmare.
While "tough" and "fair" are two adjectives readily associated with Gordon, "compassion" is the primary descriptor that comes from those familiar with his courtroom.
"He doesnít try to rush things through and he wants everyone to have their day in court," said former Franklin prosecutor Jim Ryba, who is now a deputy sheriff in Merrimack County. "He sees people as people and not as statistics."
Both Forey and Ryba said they are most impressed by Gordonís ability to get to the root of the issue and then hold people accountable ó especially in juvenile court where the limelight never shines and where both think Gordon makes his biggest impact.
"He cares. You really need somebody who cares," said Ryba, who likes the way Gordon not only holds defendants accountable, but organizations like schools and mental health agencies who are supposed to help people to the same high standards.
"He always wants to know how much progress has been made," said Ryba, who said Gordon isnít beyond making the phone calls himself to follow up on one of his recommendations like alcohol and drug treatment or family counseling. "He keeps families together.
"And if people donít take advantage of his kindness, heís not afraid to slap them.
"He is a no-nonsense kind of guy who shows real compassion for young people," said Forey.
Most recently Gordonís compassion for young people and his willingness to take action found him on a rainy Friday night speaking about underage drinking to a crowded room of Franklin and Winnisquam high school students.
"Alcohol is the river that runs through my courtroom," said Gordon to his young audience. "Alcohol is a problem for the whole family."
"The good news is that the courtroom is where many people Ďbottom out,í" said Gordon pausing. "The bad news is that just as many continue."
What bothers him the most is the people who never reach their full potential because alcohol has ruined their lives.
"We all know these people," Gordon told his audience encouraging them to break the cycle of alcohol. "Why would you want to be like them?"
Showing the candor and unapologetic attitude for which he is known, Gordon took direct aim at the state of New Hampshire for "now being charged with maximizing revenue on alcohol."
"The small amount of revenue directed toward treatment is unconscionable," he said, condemning the full-color state advertisements in statewide newspapers.
Gordon said he also blames the liquor industry for marketing its products to young people and promoting alcoholic beverages like flavored alcoholic drinks that transition adolescents "from Kool-Aid to Kahlua."
But he kept most of the blame for himself.
"Itís ordinary adult behavior," he said, explaining children who see alcohol consumed in the home are more likely to drink than those who do not. "Frankly, itís us parents. It goes from generation to generation"
Gordon is also not afraid of controversy and recently fell afoul of the Union Leader editorial staff, which took him to task for fining a Webster mother $1,000, suspended, and which effectively lowered the charge to that of a misdemeanor ó after her February conviction for two counts of endangering the welfare of a child for allowing her children to ride unsecured in the back of her open pickup.
The womanís attorney, and the Union Leader, thought she should have been acquitted.
"Franklin District Court Judge Edward Gordon ... went too far," read their editorial.
"I did what I thought was fair and appropriate," said an unapologetic Gordon.
Most importantly, Gordon feels he presides over the peopleís court.
"Every one has a right to come here and be treated courteously and fairly," he said. "itís not the judgeís. Itís not the lawyerís. Itís the peopleís."
This article first appeared in the April 13, 2008 Laconia Citizen and was reprinted here with permission.