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Bar News - June 18, 2010

Judge McGuire Leaves Bench, but not Life in the Law


Hon. Kathleen A. McGuire
Hon. Kathleen A. McGuire, whose retirement from the NH Superior Court became effective April 2, 2010, says she has always tried to think of her job as a judge in terms of the "awesome responsibility" that goes with it, rather than in terms of power or authority. "The impact my decisions would have on the litigants in a case, and sometimes their wider ramifications, is something I always tried to be mindful of, even when the law was clear and my actual discretion quite limited," she says.

McGuire, 62, joined the NH Bar in 1984 and began her career in the legal profession as clerk to NH Supreme Court Associate Justice Charles G. Douglas, III. A year later, she joined the NH Attorney General’s office, where she served from 1985-89. During her last year at the AG’s office, she was chief of the Criminal bureau.

Appointed as a Superior Court associate justice by Gov. Judd Gregg in the summer of 1989, she was confirmed on Sept. 6 and served in that position for 21 years.

Becoming a judge fulfilled a long-time goal of McGuire’s. Working as a clerk at the NH Supreme Court made her appreciate the judicial decision-making process and she began to think about someday becoming a judge herself. However, she was surprised to receive that opportunity at the relatively young age of 41.

A Love for the Rule of Law

McGuire is known for her devotion to the rule of law, a devotion that has governed both thought and action on the bench—and has led to her many years of involvement with the Russian-American Rule of Law Consortium, a legal exchange with the "oblast" (similar to a province) of Vologda. McGuire has visited Vologda more than a dozen times, bringing many judges, lawyers, law enforcement officials and others to share their knowledge with their Russian counterparts. "We have no idea the difficulties faced by the Russian justice system during the political, economic and legal reorganization of the country," McGuire said recently, upon receiving the Daniel Webster International Lawyer of the Year award.

She will continue her work with the Consortium.

She will also be teaching at Franklin Pierce Law Center, a course to help law students develop greater clarity in both writing and speaking. McGuire did some teaching before she went to law school (Boston College) back in the 80s. In fact, she was studying for her Ph.D in History when she decided to change careers and chose the law as her profession. She has never regretted that decision. Becoming a judge made her even more sure that she had chosen wisely.

"It took me a long time to realize the positive impact judges can have just by virtue of their positions," she says. "Judges are authority figures and what they say to the people appearing before them really matters. Once I understood this, I tried to take every opportunity to say something positive, kind, or encouraging. I think this [practice] was very effective, particularly in sentencing contexts."

In 2003, McGuire was a co-recipient of the Justice William A. Grimes award for judicial professionalism for her part in supporting the Academy program, an alternative sentencing program for non-violent offenders.

Gender-Balance on the Bench

McGuire came to the bench when there were only a few female judges. She and now-Supreme Court Associate Justice Linda S. Dalianis, along with the late Hon. Margaret Q. Flynn, served on the Superior Court together for several years. McGuire has always believed strongly in the importance of a gender-balanced court.

"Undoubtedly, women share experiences unique to them which may lead a female judge to think about a situation in a very different way from what a male colleague would. Having a proportionate number of female judges is important, not just because it may affect the outcome of a particular case, but because of the opportunity it creates for a more diversified culture and dialogue among colleagues on the bench," she says.

McGuire believes that there is a current under-representation of women judges and that such under-representation poorly serves the profession and the community. She says, "While judges have an absolute obligation to be as fair and impartial as humanly possible, the way judges interpret evidence or view a problem may be influenced by the judge’s own background and life experiences….Justice should be seen as a reality for all citizens, no matter their gender or race. This perception is enhanced by a court system that represents the diversity in our community."

[Judge McGuire is among several female judges interviewed in an article in the upcoming Bar Journal issue devoted to the latest update of the Gender Equality Survey, conducted every 10 years.]

Every Kind of Case

McGuire considers herself lucky to have been assigned to Merrimack County for many years because state government is located there and she had the opportunity to preside over many interesting and challenging cases. She says she has been fortunate to sit when superior court judges tried the full gamut of marital cases, too. "I learned an awful lot," she says. "I have enormous respect for the marital masters who handle those very difficult cases day in and day out."

"The jurisdiction of the superior court has narrowed, of course," she continues, "with family cases moving to the Family Division and other jurisdictional changes; even within the superior court, judges may not be hearing as many complex cases with the advent of the business docket." Although she admits that there will always be plenty to do, she is glad she was a superior court judge, "when we heard it all."

She says, "I have had a wonderful career. It doesn’t get much better than being a general jurisdiction trial judge. I found it energizing and intellectually challenging to handle the myriad types of cases that come into superior court. Even up to the last week I sat on the bench, new issues came up that I had never seen before."

A Retiring Life?

McGuire’s son, Philip J. Messier, is following in her footsteps. He will attend law school at the University of Virginia beginning in August. They are close—and have recently returned from a visit to Ireland. "I could wish nothing more for him than that he have a career as rewarding and worthwhile as the one I was blessed to have," she says.

The position at Franklin Pierce—a half-time professorship—was established by a grant from the Morton E. Goulder Foundation and is designed to teach law students how to write and speak better English.

The class will put to good use McGuire’s years on the Bench reading and listening to lawyers, young and old, wrestle with the English language.

McGuire also plans to do some private arbitration—and she leaves for Russia on June 5 to visit Vologda again.

She may have retired from the Bench, but she still leads a very busy life.

"I do hope to play a lot of golf, though," she says with a smile.

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