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Bar News - June 12, 2009

Tale of Two Courts: Conboy Nomination Would Thin Superior Court’s Ranks


The nomination of Superior Court Judge Carol Ann Conboy to the NH Supreme Court – on track for probable confirmation later this month – will fill out one under-staffed court yet further deplete the already-thin Superior Court bench, which now has 19 judges.

If approved, Gov. Lynch’s nomination of the veteran judge would place the first Franklin Pierce Law Center graduate on the state’s highest court, and would give the court more gender balance. The appointment of Conboy would fill a vacancy created last February by the retirement of Associate Justice Richard Galway.

Judge Conboy, 61, has served on the Superior Court since 1992 and now sits in Merrimack County. She has chaired the NH Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics and the Superior Court’s Sentence Review Board. In addition to her judicial duties, Judge Conboy serves as a member of the Franklin Pierce Law Center Board of Trustees, and has been a frequent presenter at NHBA CLEs and has served on the NHBA Professionalism Committee.

Last year, Conboy was the recipient of the NH Women’s Bar Association’s Marilla Ricker Achievement Award, and in 2003, she was a co-recipient of the Justice Grimes Judicial Professionalism award with three of her superior court colleagues for their participation in the creation and implementation of The Academy alternative sentencing program.

Conboy is known as an innovator on the bench, particularly as a champion of greater juror involvement through note-taking and questioning. She also has embraced the practice, allowed under a recent statute but in reality discouraged by some of her fellow judges, of attorney-directed voir dire.

The NH Executive Council will hold its public hearing on the Conboy nomination on Tuesday, June 16 at 3 p.m. at the State House.

More on the challenges caused by judicial vacancies in the superior courts.

Carol Ann Conboy’s nomination to the Supreme Court could be confirmed as early as June 17, the next regular meeting of the Executive Council following a public hearing on her nomination on June 16.

Her appointment, if approved, would solve one problem by bringing the Supreme Court up to full strength, but it would exacerbate another. Subtracting Judge Conboy from the trial court would reduce the Superior Court to 18 judges, four below its statutory maximum (and far below the 25.5 judges recommended in a recent weighted-caseload study.)

Adding to the problem is that Judge Philip D. Mangones, who suffered a heart attack several months ago, is not expected to return to the job before July 1.

Helping the Superior Court to fill its many empty seats at the judges’ bench are justices of the NH Supreme Court. Justice Linda S. Dalianis has been sitting in Hillsborough South Superior Court on most Mondays in recent months; Justices James Duggan and Gary Hicks have also been subbing at the busiest trial courts in southern NH. Superior Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn is juggling increasingly difficult administrative duties while sitting in court a full two days each week.

Chief Justice Lynn’s too-many-holes-to-plug scheduling has been hampered also by funding limitations. Per-diem amounts paid to judges who retired early for this fiscal year have already been committed.

Editor’s note: Details on how the budget might affect the judicial branch will be posted in the e-Bulletin and at Want to talk about the importance of adequate court resources with your representatives in Concord? Check out the "Why We Care" pages for information and advocacy tips.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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