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Bar News - September 18, 2009

Remembering Jim Adams, Chief Forensic Examiner


Jim Adams
Editor’s Note: James J. Adams, MD, well-known forensic examiner and head of the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the state prison in Concord died July 7 in a swimming accident in North Carolina.

Dr. James Adams served the people of New Hampshire superbly until his untimely death in July. I knew Jim for almost 15 years and would like to share my memories of him, along with some comments from his legal colleagues.

I first met Jim in 1995 when I worked as a psychiatrist for the outpatient general population at the state prison. Jim was the senior psychiatrist for the Secure Psychiatric Unit. He eventually took the position of chief forensic examiner for the state. Always collegial and friendly, he was eager to share his knowledge of forensic psychiatry.

He was considered a master of NH mental health laws. I can recall one instance in which judge, prosecuting attorney, and defense attorney waited patiently while I called Jim to determine his interpretation of the law. As soon as I reported his opinion, everyone immediately agreed to abide by his decision. That is the kind of respect he commanded.

I will always remember Jim as a "King Solomon" kind of man; he made wise decisions. He had the clinical needs of any person he was evaluating in mind first and foremost and was an expert on danger and violence. His goal was to balance the needs of the mentally ill with the demands of public safety. He did this extremely well and was personally responsible for helping many needy people get the treatment they required, while at the same time protecting the public from those who represented a danger to the community.

Jim’s testimony was at the heart of numerous precedent-setting cases in New Hampshire. His opinions were regularly upheld by the Supreme Court when appeals occurred. He helped to shape the nature of forensic psychiatry in New Hampshire, and was instrumental in making our system one of the best in the country.

Jim will be missed by so many people. His accomplishments and contributions will always be remembered. What kind of man was he? The following comments from members of the legal community with whom he worked for 20 years tell us….

Jim was a kind-hearted and well-intentioned man with whom I disagreed often about my clients' mental capabilities and the legal consequences of their respective conditions. We nonetheless liked each other and appreciated each other's perspective. He was a quality gentleman, never petty or vindictive, and off the witness stand enjoyed telling amusing stories. Quick to laugh, happy to participate in the camaraderie of his lawyer-colleagues, he will be missed.
– Ted Barnes

I recently retired from law practice, but in my status as "inactive retired" I saw the notice about Jim's untimely passing.

Jim worked for me on a number of cases as my expert over a period of about 15 years starting in the 1980's. I never took him anything routine, so, after a while, when I would come in for the first meeting, I'd see his familiar smile -- like, well, what are you here with now?

Jim was marvelously well balanced, creative, and incredibly bright. It was a true pleasure for me to see the best of New Hampshire's insurance defense lawyers try to take him apart with uniform lack of success. Jim always exuded a tempered, quiet presence of genuine humanity and kindness; that always came through to juries and opposing counsel and helped to make him incredibly believable. He was truly bullet-proof. Of course, while some of this came naturally, it was always the product of careful research and preparation. No one smoked Jim. He often mortally wounded insurance defense counsel so cleanly and subtly that they often never realized that Jim's scalpel had been carefully inserted and removed. I don't ever recall losing a case that Jim served me on (and I lost a hell of a lot of cases over the years!)

So, to Jim's family, please express my sincere sorrow. He was the best in so many ways.
– Edgar D. (Ted) McKean, III

I really always enjoyed visiting with Dr. Adams. I remember one time we were waiting for my client to be transported for a competency evaluation, and Dr. Adams and I visited for more than one hour. Dr. Adams was half Cuban, and as my husband is Cuban, we were sharing stories of Cuban heritage and history. In fact, Dr. Adams shared with me many tidbits about the Cuban culture that helped me to later deal with my in-laws! Dr. Adams loved to talk and learn about different cultures and traveling, and his stories of both were extremely fascinating. He was always such a pleasant man to visit with and I am going to miss him.
– Melissa S. Penson

"I was very saddened to hear of Jim Adams’ untimely death. Jim had a keen legal mind, a deep sense of fairness, and a collegial spirit. I will miss working on cases with him, both when we agreed and disagreed."
– Al Drukteinis, MD JD

While I do not pretend to be a psychologist, I have a substantial juvenile and criminal practice as well as some social security cases and thus am acutely aware of the unfortunate role of the Courts as treatment providers of last resort. Of course, if I ever forget, I can always be reminded by the attorney for the Developmental Disabilities Council to whom I'm married......

As a defense attorney, I knew Jim Adams on purely a professional level, as his responsibilities included performing competency evaluations for the state….I will always believe that Dr Adams had a heart as well as a brain. I will miss [him].
– Michael C. Shklar

For me it is as though a great spirit went out of the world….I recall our farewell when he was leaving NH Hospital many years ago. I was legal counsel. He came to me and said how much he was going to miss me. I was shocked and said so. "But Jim! We are always arguing. We don’t agree on anything!" He smiled and said, "Yes, I know. That is what I appreciated about you. You were willing to speak up and disagree with me...."
– Barbara A. M. Maloney

Dr. Schopick is a Board Certified Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist who practices clinical and forensic psychiatry. He can be reached at 603-431-5411 or

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