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Bar News - December 19, 2008

Morning Mail

Marital Master Pamela Kelly Says Goodbye

An open letter to the members of the NH Bar:

It is with astonishment that I realize I have been a marital master with the court for over 20 years, and with mixed feelings that I have decided to retire on a full-time basis at the conclusion of my second contract year of part-time employment.

Unquestionably, participating in the first full-time marital master program in the court system was an adventure as well as a privilege. I have seen the practice of law in domestic relations undergo astonishing transformations in the last two decades. It has become more complex, sophisticated, and respected as an important area of legal service. The Supreme Court began to acknowledge its importance by expanding services and increasing resources to address this phenomenon, most notably through the marital master program. By designating experts in family law to hear these cases, the Court recognized the specialized needs of families undergoing often painful transitions and created a domestic relations division in the Superior Court.

As summarized in a proposal made by the marital masters a decade ago:

Family court proceedings directly touch the lives of New Hampshire citizens more than any other area of litigation and must be responsive to the needs of each family. Unlike other court matters, these cases determine how parents and children cope with upheaval in their most intimate and affecting personal relationships. They are seldom concluded without some need for ongoing oversight and affirmative relief from the court, given the natural changes brought about by time and circumstances in the lives of family members. The subject matter of this jurisdiction is human nature itself as revealed in the myriad manifestations of the family, which is still, after all, the ultimate training ground for membership in society. Effective management of family-related cases requires particular interest and expertise in staff and judicial officers, access to resources such as mediation and community services, and the ability to respond meaningfully to the needs of litigants promptly and fairly.

As among the first to participate in this de facto exercise of specialized judicial jurisdiction, I was gratified by the trust and responsibility that the Court placed in the marital masters to develop and implement procedures, forms, and even new Rules of Court. By the time the Family Division had been created by the legislature, I believe the citizens, lawyers, and court personnel of this state were already prepared for its implementation, largely because of the success of the marital master program and our dedicated family court.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge those who taught me what I know and were not shy about reminding me how to do my job. I am grateful to the attorneys who practiced before me for their dedication, professionalism, and – for the most part – sense of humor. I owe an endless debt of gratitude to my cherished colleagues, the other marital masters, for their unfailing support and wisdom. The bench and bar of this state make me proud to claim my membership among you, and fortunate for all you have given me.

Hon. Pamela D. Kelly

Delaying Justice a ‘Terrible Idea’

Editor: The following comment is in response to the Dec. 4 NHBA e-Bulletin that included a Judicial Branch announcement regarding cuts in jury sessions as a budget-cutting measure.

As any citizen of the great state of New Hampshire knows, jury service in New Hampshire is both a right and a privilege. The right to have a jury hear one’s case under appropriate circumstances is enshrined in the State Constitution. Therefore, I was surprised to learn most New Hampshire counties will put off jury trials for a month next year so the judicial system can help close the state’s budget gap. The savings are reported to be around $75,000. I’m guessing that’s a paltry sum compared to savings that could be realized by actions less intrusive on public rights, such as the executive branch eliminating or reducing conferences, selling state aircraft and staff vehicles, and cutting back on non-vital services having no connection to basic rights.

New Hampshire citizens should challenge the executive branch to step up to the plate and leave the privilege to have one’s case heard before a jury untrammeled. Delaying one’s rights sounds like a terrible idea. Watch what happens when a defendant is denied a speedy trial in part because of this surprising plan.

Tom Tudor
Fairfax Station, VA

NH Bar member since 1980 and former resident of Contoocook 

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