Bar News - April 16, 2014
Judicial Conduct Committee Reprimands Retired Strafford County Judge
The Judicial Conduct Committee last month issued a formal reprimand of retired NH Superior Court Judge John Lewis, stemming from comments he made last summer in violation of the NH Code of Judicial Conduct.
In meetings with staff from the Strafford County Attorney’s Office and NH Public Defender in July 2013, Lewis reportedly made statements that could have been reasonably perceived as prejudiced or biased. Lewis said the legal profession was in danger of losing respect in the eyes of the public due to an influx of women lawyers, according to the eight-page report the JCC issued March 31.
“As to the context of this remark, Judge Lewis stated that he was tired; it had been a long week; and, that he was trying to make the point that the value of the legal profession has diminished in the public’s perception over the years, and he was speculating as to the various reasons,” according to the JCC report.
Lewis also is alleged to have said that aggressive prosecution of child sexual assault cases could do more harm than good for families and the public.
Following a complaint by then-NHPD Deputy Director Abby Albee to Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, Lewis had been put on a two-week administrative leave, but he announced his retirement during that period. The managing attorney at the Strafford County NHPD office and Strafford County Attorney Tom Velardi confirmed that Lewis had made concerning remarks during the July meetings.
Velardi also expressed concern that Lewis was applying certain court rules differently for the prosecution and the defense, and that he applied a higher level of scrutiny to the prosecution with respect to child sex assault cases. Lewis also said he believes there are no victims of crime prior to conviction and urged attorneys to tell victims not to attend court hearings unless they wished to address the court, according to the JCC report. Velardi also stated that, despite apparent philosophical differences, “There is no doubt in my mind that Justice Lewis executed his duties as a Superior Court judge with the best of intentions.”
At a meeting with Nadeau and the Superior Court Executive Committee on July 18, Lewis said he did not agree with the way his comments had been interpreted and “vigorously denied that he said or intended what was alleged but nevertheless, according to Judge Nadeau, acknowledged that the wording could have been reasonably perceived as prejudiced or biased,” the report states.
“I was clearly misunderstood. I take responsibility for this; I’m a judge, I should be clear,” Lewis reportedly told the NH Union Leader in early April.
Lewis, who was on the bench for 12 years, mostly in Strafford County, was 67 years old when he retired. He has not sought senior judicial status and has agreed to refrain from hearing further cases.