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Bar News - October 15, 2010

Court Funding Crisis: What’s the Bar Doing?

NHBA President Marilyn Billings McNamara clarifies the Bar Association’s role in the discussion over current funding and the future of the state judicial system.

Is the Bar Association supporting the lawsuit against the state over funding for the courts?

The Bar Association was consulted on participating in the lawsuit, but it is not a party to it. The attorneys bringing the lawsuit – which include NHBA Vice President Lawrence A. Vogelman and past president Russell Hilliard – decided to properly put the focus on individuals who have suffered actual harm by being blocked from timely attention and remedies from our state courts.

The Board of Governors has discussed the advantages and disadvantages of litigation as a means of pressuring the state of NH to act on providing adequate resources, but the Board did not vote on whether it would join the suit.

However, many of our members, including myself, support the aims of the lawsuit. The experiences of the plaintiffs who were denied justice are unfortunately all too commonplace. There is no doubt in our minds that insufficient resources have been devoted to the administration of justice in recent years, and in the past year in particular.

What should the Bar be doing to protect the interests of those who use the courts?

I believe we have been doing what we should have been doing since work began on the current two-year budget. The Bar Association, through talks with court leaders and discussions with the executive and legislative branches of government, has tried to focus attention on the issue of providing adequate resources for the courts. We have used the Bar News and our website to share with members and the public as much information as we can gather about the impact of not appointing judges, court closures through furloughs, and the processing delays resulting from not filling staff vacancies.

Are you concerned that the lawsuit will antagonize the legislative and executive branches?

I believe this litigation serves the worthy purpose of focusing attention on the issue; it compels action. However, we all hope that there can be a prompt resolution of the court funding problems without litigation.

As stake-holders in the justice system, but not adversaries in a lawsuit, the Bar Association – as the unified voice of the legal community – hopes to play a constructive role in encouraging the state and the plaintiffs to negotiate immediate steps to keep courthouses open and to keep the justice process moving.

For example, the Bar Association can put its resources and expertise to the task of obtaining information and ideas from its attorney members on the frontlines of the justice system, as we have done throughout the arduous budget process of the past year.

There are proposals by the Judicial Branch Innovation Commission to make structural changes to the courts. What’s the Bar’s involvement in this effort?

As Bar president, I was appointed to the Commission and will be reporting more on its deliberations as the group’s recommendations take shape in the next few months. (See related article.) I think all Bar members would applaud the initial steps of the Judicial Branch Innovation Commission to reexamine the structure and processes of our justice system with an eye on greater efficiencies without sacrificing access. These ideas are not fully formed and will benefit from the input of Bar members. The Bar Association will aid the process by disseminating the recommendations to our attorney members.

Will the Bar Association endorse closing courthouses?

I don’t think we should take positions on specific recommendations, but continue to provide helpful information. The Bar Association supports more efficient court processes. Our members know all too well the impact of slow or inconsistent judicial processes on citizens going to court. Our members have valuable perspectives and insights; the Bar Association will assist the state in addressing court re-engineering recommendations that do not sacrifice essential needs of a fair and consistent judicial process and meaningful convenient access for the sake of speed and economy.

RELATED: State Sued Over Underfunding of Courts

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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