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Bar News - February 19, 2014

Court News: Becoming a Judge: Judicial Training & Orientation in NH


NH Superior Court Judge Charles Temple is accompanied by his family as the governor administers the oath.

Former circuit court judge Lawrence MacLeod poses for a photo with the governor after being sworn in as a NH Superior Court judge.

NH Superior Court Judge David Anderson takes the oath with his hand on a family Bible and his wife looking on. Gov. Hassan once worked with Anderson at Pierce Atwood.
The largest group of new judicial officers in recent New Hampshire history, three new Superior Court judges and six new Circuit Court judges recently began several weeks of orientation and training for the bench.

The three superior court judges, all of whom were sworn in by Gov. Maggie Hassan on Jan. 31, began a month of training Feb. 3. NH Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau spent the first week with judges Charles Temple, David Anderson and Lawrence MacLeod, reviewing criminal and civil procedure and evidence-based sentencing. The judges also observed drug court and jury selection proceedings in Rockingham County, learned about managing pro se litigants, and heard a presentation from a University of New Hampshire writing professor.

The judges made the rounds at the court’s administrative offices, where they met administrators, learned about how the justice system works on the inside, and ordered the requisite garb – a custom-fit robe.

Nadeau said she remembers her first days as a judge as being nerve-wracking. “I think the key is being conscious and self-aware and willing to accept feedback,” she said. “The biggest mistake of first-time judges is thinking you need to know everything right away.”

NH Supreme Court Associate Justice Carol Ann Conboy also provided the new judges with some appellate tips during their in-house training.

Afterwards, the judges were scheduled to participate in a two-week training at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev., most of the tuition for which is paid through scholarships from the National College, Nadeau said.

Each judge was to be assigned a more experienced superior court judge and a court clerk to shadow for a week. And, once they begin hearing cases, the new judges will have mentors who will observe and coach them for one day per month over the first six months.

There are now 19 superior court judges, including Nadeau. That’s one shy of the statutory cap of 20. Nadeau said she is hopeful that the governor will make at least one nomination in April and possibly two, with the second to replace Judge Kenneth McHugh, who is scheduled to retire later this year.

The six new judges in the NH Circuit Court began their judicial training Jan. 22. This training period marked the first time a group of new judges has required certification and training to handle all circuit court case types, including criminal, family division and probate cases, said NH Circuit Court Deputy Chief Judge David King. The training stressed procedural fairness and due process, in addition to criminal and civil procedure, King said.

“This is really the first group of judges coming into the circuit court who are getting in-depth training in each of the three divisions, right from the beginning,” he said. “We’re still feeling our way about how best to train them.”

Some of the new judges already have experience as judicial officers in the different divisions. Judge Patricia Quigley, for example, was a staff attorney in the probate division for years and was already hearing cases as a referee. She helped Judge King conduct the probate training for the other new judges. Likewise, Judge James Foley is a former marital master and helped teach his peers about presiding over cases in the family division. Judge Susan Carbon went through the training when she was appointed as a part-time judge. She did not participate in the training this time, but helped instruct her fellow judges, King said.

For the judges who are brand-new to the bench, the amount of information coming at them can seem staggering.

“For a judge who has never sat in any capacity as a judicial officer, there’s a huge learning curve, because there are a lot of administrative things, like working with interpreters and dealing with the media,” King said.

The Circuit Court judges also will spend time shadowing other judges. They won’t travel outside the state for any of the training, King said. “For a new judge, you’ve got to really learn how the system works on the inside,” he said, “and I think the only way you can do that is through in-house training.”

Judges are encouraged to watch their fellow judicial officers and adopt practices they like and that seem effective in the courtroom, King said, but ultimately, each new judge must find his or her own way. “You can watch other judges and see how they do it, but everybody’s an individual and everybody’s going to develop their own style over time.”

The new circuit court judges began hearing cases Feb. 10.

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