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Bar News - July 19, 2013

Court's Corner: Judicial Selection Commission Seeks Applicants for Judgeships


Judicial Vacancies Mounting

There are 12 full-time vacancies and seven part-time vacancies in the circuit court. Although the probate division has benefitted from circuit court judges being cross-trained to handle probate matters, the probate division has lost two of its most experienced judges with the recent retirements of Richard Hampe and Christina O’Neill. A third full-time judge in the district division, Clifford Kinghorn, is also retired this spring.

The circuit court has a total of 27 full-time judges and 21 part-time judges, as well as eight judges serving on senior active status or as judicial referees.

There will be no new marital masters appointed, but the approved state budget for the biennium that began July 1 enables the court to keep its six current masters until they retire, at which time they will be replaced by circuit court judges. A number of former or retired marital masters and judges are assisting with the processing of marital cases by serving as referees. Their decisions are ratified by a judge’s signature.

The superior Court has four fewer judges than its statutory maximum. The NH Legislature has appropriated funding for the court to add one judge in each year of the biennium. Chief Justice Tina Nadeau has said she hopes to help compensate for the continuing shortage of judges by looking for ways to streamline case processing and speed up dispositions. (See related story.)
Welcome news for beleaguered judges and impatient litigants: NH Gov. Maggie Hassan’s Judicial Selection Commission is open for business, accepting applications for judicial vacancies in both the Circuit Court and Superior Court.

The commission, which recommends a short list of candidates to the governor for possible nomination, recently posted a notice that it is screening candidates to fill three to five Circuit Court judicial positions. There is a particular emphasis on attorneys with expertise in probate or family law, although all new Circuit Court judges will be expected to be generalists and handle cases.

The commission is also screening for one position in the Superior Court, which may require regular travel to Grafton County. Applications are due by Aug. 9. Previous applicants must resubmit their applications, as the application has been revised this year.

If past experience is a guide, it will be at least late fall before nominations will go to the Executive Council for a vote. Calls for applications typically generate a large number of applications. In-person interviews and other research are conducted by the volunteer commission, and then a short list of names is forwarded to the governor. The governor typically conducts his or her own interviews and research before proposing a nominee.

Gov. Hassan appointed attorneys James Rosenberg and Emily Rice to serve as co-chairs of her commission. Both were on Gov. Lynch’s selection panel, and Rice had served as co-chair. While there is continuity to the process, there is a welcome innovation – the new commission is requiring emailed applications and supporting materials – which will cut down on the voluminous photocopying that the paper application process required of applicants.

The call for applications and the application itself can be found on the Bar Association website.

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