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Bar News - January 13, 2012

Opinion: Letters on Masters Were Misleading

The last two issues of the Bar News carried a number of articles and letters relating to the new Circuit Court and the phasing out of marital masters. Much of the information was misleading especially from letter writers who seem to be suffering from the disease of political myopia (the other political party is always wrong). Then there was the letter I received from a Portsmouth attorney bemoaning the loss of Marital Masters.

First, the family court is not being dissolved; it is a division in the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court was an innovation developed and promoted by the Judicial Branch. Itís a court that will bring swifter and more professional dispute resolution to the citizens, especially in the rural areas of New Hampshire. The Chief Justice and Judges Kelly and King should be commended and thanked by the Bar Association for their efforts in designing and promoting the Circuit Court.

In the original bill introduced to the legislature the concept of eliminating marital masters was clearly described. We currently have 13 masters; these masters will be phased out over the next four years and replaced by Circuit Court judges. All marital masters will have the opportunity to apply for nomination to the Circuit Court bench. I expect with their experience they will be well-positioned to become Circuit Court judges. As of this date numerous Circuit Court judicial positions have already been approved and funded and are awaiting Executive Branch action.

Currently we have District and Probate Court judges approved and sitting on marital matters in the Circuit Court. To suggest, as stated in one of the letters I received, that these judges will not give the necessary immediate attention that is warranted, is truly a misstatement. Further, to state that the master system is more efficient than a judge sitting on a case is false; the judge has the first hand benefit of seeing and hearing the parties, then making an immediate order. A master can only make recommendations; these must be processed and forwarded to a judge who then must read and approve or disapprove the masterís recommendation before it becomes an order.

The Circuit Court will offer quicker and more accessible dispute resolution to the public. Consider in the many small-town courthouses, a Circuit Court judge can hear Probate Division, District Division and Family Division cases in the same day and in far more court locations than the Family Court.

Robert H. Rowe
Chair, House Judiciary Committee

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