Recollections from NH Public Defenders Past and Present
The NH Bar Association saluted the 40th anniversary of the NH Public Defender program at the 2013 Midyear Meeting on March 8 in Manchester. Bar News asked current and former public defenders to submit thoughts and memories as part of the Bar’s effort to celebrate this milestone. Along with the accompanying article by George Bruno, these are some of the great messages we received.
In 1981 in Rockingham County Superior Court, I was doing a suppression hearing in an effort to have a highly suggestive identification of my client ruled inadmissible. The alleged victim of a particularly brutal armed robbery was on the stand. The prosecutor got around to asking what the description of the perpetrator was, and immediately the woman looked around the courtroom, stared at defense table, and point directly at… me.
The prosecutor then said something to the effect of: "Are you sure?" She was allowed to leave the stand, walked over to defense table, and put her hand on my right shoulder stating, "Yes, that is him. He put the gun right in my mouth and demanded the money."
The prosecutor asked the judge permission to approach the bench. We approached and the prosecutor stated that he was going to dismiss the case. The judge replied, "Why? It seems like you have a perfectly good identification." After some laughing, thankfully for me, the case was dismissed. It taught us all about the uncertainty of the courtroom and, even in such a serious situation, there was a great deal of good humor evidenced by all.
– Mark Sisti
The first jury trial I tried in Merrimack County was an attempted murder case in which the defendant, Renny Vayans, from the NH State Prison, had stabbed a prison guard, Chris Metalious (son of Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place), in the chest 29 times.
Only in New Hampshire do you know all the players. Judge Batchelder sat as the judge, and Jim Kruse, then from the Attorney General’s Office, prosecuted the case. The state put Chris Metalious on the stand to testify about the stabbing, but neglected to swear him in. I kept looking at the judge; the judge kept looking at me.
When it came time to cross-examine, I moved for a mistrial. Judge Batchelder, with his classic Cheshire Cat grin, turned to the witness and said, "Is everything you said in your direct examination true and correct to the best of your information and belief?" He administered a retroactive oath, thereby denying my motion for a mistrial.
The defense was that the assault occurred during an epileptic seizure. Renny had a history of epilepsy, so it was not created out of whole cloth. In any event, Renny was acquitted of attempted murder, and my memory of that first trial remains clear, because of the personalities and the "fun."
– Robert Stein
Before I joined the Public Defender, I worked as an assistant AG in the homicide bureau, so I was used to winning cases. I just assumed I would keep winning as a public defender. I got trounced the very first case I tried. It was a welfare fraud case, and I could not believe that the jury convicted my sympathetic client, a mother of four. I was very shaken up. That night I went to the home of my trainer – Judy Dickinson. I was very humbled and frightened that I would never be any good as a defender. I was so upset that I was crying – the first time in my professional life (but not the last). Judy welcomed me with open arms. She got it. It was very typical of a public defender to be there for a colleague...
I practiced most of my openings and closings before everyone in the office – and I mean everyone. Some of the very best advice I ever received about what was working and what was not working was from the secretarial staff.
– Barbara Keshen
As a public defender, one of the questions that I fret over is the one asked by the judge in the colloquy: "Are you satisfied with the services of your attorney?" One time, a judge asked my client that question. My client, without hesitation, replied, "Yes, she’s cheap but good." I would like to put that on my business cards.
– Jan Peterson
Editor’s note: The following is Cathy Green’s letter of employment dated June 30, 1977.
This is to happily confirm our agreement that you will join the Hillsborough Public Defender program as a staff attorney at a salary of $10,000 per annum. I hope you will be able to start August 1, 1977 or soon thereafter. As we discussed, your continued employment is contingent upon your success on the Bar Exam.
The public defender has earned a reputation for providing high quality representation by dedicated attorneys. We all very much look forward to you joining our staff to meet the challenges ahead.
Sincerely, Robert Gross
At that time, I joined Bruce Kenna in the Manchester office and Scoop Leahy, who was the sole attorney in Concord. Jim Duggan and Paul Lawrence had just left the PD office in Manchester to enter private practice. Within seven years we had grown from two offices with three lawyers to 32 lawyers in five offices. This was under the leadership of David Garfunkel.
– Cathy Green
It was in the early 1990s and I was awaiting my turn at trial or plea (or something) in Concord District Court. My Public Defender colleague Judy Reardon did not like the court’s evidentiary ruling. She told the court in the sassy way only she has: "You know, the rules of evidence apply in THIS court too, your honor."