Bar News - January 13, 2012
Justice Duggan’s Appointment Led Others to Seek Bench
By: Dan Wise
Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice James E. Duggan retires this week, after 11 years on the bench, capping a long career as a public defender and law professor.
|Hon. James E. Duggan
He may be remembered as much for his appointment than for any specific act during his judicial tenure. His was the first appointment made in 2001 by then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen following her creation in 2000 of a Judicial Selection Commission to screen judicial nominees. "His appointment to the New Hampshire Supreme Court was a confirmation to many that judicial selection would be based on merit and not on political connections," said Philip Waystack, who co-chaired the commission at that time.
Duggan said at the time he had not expected the nomination and was grateful to Gov. Shaheen for having the "political courage" to nominate a lawyer whose career had focused on access to justice for the poor. That appointment has had an enduring legacy.
"Many applicants for judicial office since that time mentioned that Justice Duggan’s appointment was a factor in their decisions to apply for judicial office," said Waystack, who today serves as co-chair with attorney Emily Rice, of a similar Judicial Selection Commission created by Gov. Lynch.
Duggan, 69, started the public defender office in Manchester more than 30 years ago and went on to become the state’s chief appellate defender, representing hundreds of indigent defendants on appeals to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. At the same time, he was a law professor at what was then known as Franklin Pierce Law Center, now the University of New Hampshire School of Law, where he taught and mentored students seeking careers in public service.
NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis described Duggan, whom she has known for more than 20 years, as a "strong, thoughtful presence on the court, who has brought intellectual rigor to all of our discussions about the law."
"My colleagues and I will miss his steady, quiet approach to developing the jurisprudence of New Hampshire; but, even more, we will miss his humor, his decency and his friendship," Dalianis said, "We all wish him well."
US Senator Jeanne Shaheen praised Duggan upon his retirement: "During his distinguished career in public service, Justice Duggan has been the epitome of professionalism and integrity. He brought real-world experience and pragmatism to the bench, and worked tirelessly to ensure justice for all New Hampshire citizens. I commend Justice Duggan for his service to New Hampshire and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors."
In his letter to Gov. John Lynch announcing his retirement, Duggan noted that under the state constitution his term on the Supreme Court expires in August 2012, when he turns 70 years old. He said for personal reasons, he and his family had decided over the summer that he would step down in January.
"Serving as a justice of the Supreme Court has been an exceptionally remarkable experience and an unparalleled opportunity to advance the rule of law and serve the citizens of New Hampshire," Duggan said in a statement. [Justice Duggan declined to be interviewed upon his departure from the Court, and he asked that his retirement be kept low-key. An event was held at the NH Supreme Court on Jan. 6 to mark his retirement. [Visit nhbar.org for photos and coverage of this event.]
Duggan was the first nominee to the state’s highest court recommended for the position by the Judicial Selection Commission established by Shaheen’s executive order. The Commission screens applicants for judicial appointments and then presents a list of recommended candidates to the Governor, who had agreed to choose from the list. In announcing Duggan’s nomination, Shaheen’s office said the Selection Commission cited what they described as Duggan’s "unusual combination of scholarliness and pragmatism…" and his "ability to work tirelessly, wisely and courageously for the people of New Hampshire."
During his years on the Supreme Court, Duggan continued to work for equal access to justice for the poor. He served as chair of the Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission which was established in 2007 to develop and coordinate the state’s existing programs for delivering low cost legal services. From 2008-2011, he was a member of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, which leads a nationwide effort to increase access to justice.
He was active in the NH Bar Association while at the Public Defender, and helped found its Criminal Law section, and he chaired the committee that produced the first NH Criminal Jury Instructions in 1983. He served on the NHBA Board of Governors as an at-large member from 1983 to 1986, on the NHBA Task Force on Women in the Legal Profession in 1987, and, later, on the NHBA Professionalism Committee. From 1994 to 2012, he was a member of the NH Supreme Court Minimum Continuing Legal Education Board (NHMCLE). He also served as the Supreme Court’s liaison to the NH Bar Foundation.
Duggan, whose parents were both school teachers, is a native of Laconia. He graduated from Georgetown University in Washington DC and then served with the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. After graduation from Georgetown Law Center, Duggan was a staff lawyer for the Public Defender Service in Washington and later worked with Micronesian Legal Services in Saipan before returning to New Hampshire in 1974 to start the public defender office in Manchester.
This article incorporates material provided by the Judicial Branch. Visit courts.state.nh.us for more material on Justice Duggan, including an "Overview of Decisions" highlighting key opinions written by Justice Duggan.