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Bar News - August 13, 2010

Board Members Share Concerns over Court Operations

Russian attorneys, members of an International Rule of Law Exchange, listen in during a recent Board of Governors meeting.
At the first meeting of the 2010-2011 NHBA Board of Governors on July 22, members discussed, among other items, some of the difficulties citizens, legal clients and attorneys are encountering due to state courts’ budget cuts.

Several board members related examples of matters in court being effectively suspended because a judge was not available to decide an urgent issue. At times in Sullivan County, there is only one judge available for any matter, in any court. Justice Duggan of the Supreme Court is spending a couple of weeks in Nashua hearing Superior Court cases because all but one of the judges in Hillsborough North are on vacation or unavailable due to the near-elimination of all per-diem judge payments.

It was the first meeting of the Association year to be presided over by NHBA President Marilyn Billings McNamara, with the following members attending their first meeting: Eric D. Cook, Portsmouth, Governor-at-large; Tanner Z. Nolin, of Claremont, Sullivan County; and Catherine Broderick, of Laconia, Belknap County.

Joining McNamara as officers this year are President-Elect Jennifer L. Parent, Vice President Lawrence A. Vogelman, Secretary Peter E. Hutchins, and Treasurer Robert R. Howard, III.

Also in attendance were six Russian lawyers and an interpreter, the most recent legal delegation from Vologda to visit NH as part of the ongoing exchange between the legal communities of the two jurisdictions. Members of the board introduced themselves and related their areas of practice to the Russians, demonstrating the diverse practice settings represented by the board. Before the board meeting, the Russian group toured the Bar Center and met with executive Director Jeannine McCoy, former NHBA President Martha Van Oot, attorneys Martin Honigberg and Jeanne Herrick, members of the Court Rules Advisory Committee, who discussed the interaction of the Bar Association and court functions. The group was escorted by Mark Larsen of the NH Public Defender’s Office, who is a member of the Russian-American Rule of Law Committee in NH.

The BOG meeting began with a brief discussion of a recent memo issued by Family Division Administrative Judge Edwin Kelly earlier in July that reiterated that public proceedings in court can only be closed in certain circumstances. The following is the gist of the memo, sent to Family Division staff:
"I have recently been made aware that in a number of our court locations lawyers and members of the public have been either asked to leave or told not to enter courtrooms where otherwise non-confidential hearings are being held. Of course, unless the subject matter is confidential by statute or there is some other compelling reason to close a hearing, all of our courtrooms should and must be open to the public. Please have a conversation with your staff and court security officers to make sure they are aware of this requirement."McNamara noted that the practice of closing courtrooms in the family division had been the focus of discussion on the Family Law Section listserve over the course of three or four days, with attorneys in many different parts of the state attesting to widespread instances of attorneys and members of the public being denied entrance to courtrooms or being asked to leave.

Since members of the Family Division staff (as Section members) also subscribe to the list, the prevalence of the practice was brought to Judge Kelly’s attention and he issued the memo. At the board meeting, McNamara lauded the Family Division’s responsiveness. In a posting to the listserve disclosing that the memo had been circulated, McNamara added: "The Family Division staff does want to hear from lawyers if this or any other issue should rise to a level of concern. By the way, they also don’t mind if you tell them what has worked well, or what court staff member is particularly capable or helpful…you can reach the Administrative Office at 271-6418."

The board received an update on the progress of the Leadership Academy (read article), and voted to approve a utilization of funds in reserve for a capital outlay to expand the audio-visual equipment enclosure in the NHBA•CLE Seminar room. The existing space accommodates only the camera operator. NHBA•CLE live webcasts require an additional staff person to monitor connectivity issues and also field e-mailed questions. The success of the NHBA•CLE program at attracting attendees even in a down economy, and the popularity of the webcasts for members unable to attend in person, justify the expenditure, board members agreed.

The next board meeting will include the orientation for new board members and will take place Aug. 27, starting at 12:30 p.m. in Meredith.

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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