Two full-time vacancies in the district courts at Concord and Laconia and a part-time one in the Plaistow court present additional problems for an already over-burdened district court system. Even as court administrators celebrated the recent appointment of judges to new full-time posts in the Manchester and Nashua district courts, they were eyeing with concern the retirements that continue to create open positions.
District Court Administrative Judge Edwin Kelly and the Supreme Court recently contacted Governor Lynch, asking him to retain the part-time position of special justice at the Manchester district court to help handle the caseload there. Counting that position, there would be four vacancies in the district court to fill.
"This request was made pursuant to RSA 502-A:3-c which provides that unless the Supreme Court certifies the need to continue a vacated special justice position, it will be eliminated," said Kelly. Because of this statute, since its effective date in June of 2007, ten special justice positions have been eliminated in the judicial branchís move toward a completely full-time judiciary.
Besides the four current judicial vacancies, Kelly anticipates the retirements of Judge Larson of Candia District Court in September, and Judges Frasier of Hampton District Court and Taube of Durham District Court in October. Said Kelly, "That will bring the number of vacancies to six, since upon Judge Taubeís retirement the judges of the Dover District Court will assume responsibility for the caseload at Durham.
"Although the use of senior active status judges Michael Sullivan and David Huot has been helpful in filling these gaps, it is increasingly difficult to provide any consistency in judicial assignments in such a large number of courts," concluded Kelly.
The governorís office has indicated that it will ask the Judicial Selection Commission to turn its attention to the district court as soon as the superior court vacancies are filled.
Two part-time positions that have become full-time have helped relieve the crowded dockets in the Manchester and Nashua district courts.
"When I first started," said Judge John Emery (Manchester), "I was sitting three days a week; that rapidly became five days, so going to full-time really was no transition."
Emery says by the time he formally became a full-time judge, he had transferred almost all of his private cases and severely curtailed his law practice. "I had a long-term office-sharing arrangement with attorney Arthur Connelly. Arthur was very gracious and understanding, so that made the transition easier."
Judge Michael Ryan (Nashua) had been sitting part-time almost every day in the family division or one of the district courts, so he, too, had reduced his practice and finally closed it.
Both judges have been involved in youth activities in their communities over the years, Ryan with Crispinís House (an organization aiding youth and families) in Goffstown. Emery coached youth sports for many years. It is no surprise that both have a keen interest in the child abuse and neglect cases that come before them.
"All of us involved in these cases have tried to improve the process so that children who come into the system can obtain permanency without undue delay," said Emery.
Ryan and Emery have also contributed time and effort to other projects in their communities. Judge Emery was part of the foundation that raised money for the new public library in Bedford. Ryan helped to build the new Rotary Park in Goffstown and assisted in renovating the town common. "I spent many hours in hands-on landscaping," he said.
Staff people and fellow-judges in Manchester and Nashua have been grateful for the additional help provided by the two judges. Ryan said, "They are very happy to have me."Emery mentioned in particular the generosity of Judges William Lyons and Norman Champagne in giving of their "time, advice and assistance."
Emery said that if he could change anything in the Manchester court, he would like to see mediation required for all the neglect and abuse cases coming to the court through parent attorneys, the DCYF (Division of Youth and Families), the Manchester Police Department, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and the Court Improvement Project. "I think mediation would work in these cases," he said.
In commenting on the judicial selection process, both judges remarked that the selection committee was thorough and asked many searching questions. "I know the committee takes its role seriously and we should be grateful for [their] dedication and hard work," said Emery.
"They leave politics out of the equation," said Ryan.