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Bar News - October 15, 2014

Gov Candidates Talk Justice System Issues


Gov. Maggie Hassan

Walt Havenstein

With the general election right around the corner, Bar News posed a few questions about the NH Judicial Branch and the legal system to the two candidates for governor. Hereís what they had to say.

What would be your budget priorities with regard to the judicial branch?

Gov. Maggie Hassan: I worked across party lines to pass the most bipartisan budget in over a decade, which helped restore critical funding for the judicial branch, including funding to fill two additional Superior Court judges positions. Thanks to the hard work of Chief Justice Dalianis and the New Hampshire courts, the courts are also leading the way in working to become more efficient and modern. Their new state-of-the-art call center has reduced costs and improved customer service. Our courts are moving toward a paperless system and the capital budget will allow them to continue these efforts. To ensure a fair and just legal system, we must continue making the necessary investments in our judicial branch to provide sufficient judicial capacity, strengthen the e-Court system, maintain a justice system at current judicial capacity and support legal assistance.

Walt Havenstein: It is no secret that New Hampshire has a tight budget and I want to make sure that each dollar spent by any branch of government is spent as efficiently as possible. For example, I would support modernization efforts that make the court system more efficient and cost effective.

Are you in favor of the stateís continued capital support for the full implementation of the NH e-Court Project?

Hassan: Yes, I worked to provide funding for the NH e-Court Project through the budget and believe we must continue making the necessary investments to ensure operability of the e-Court system.

Havenstein: Yes. Technological advances like this project are critical, because they not only make government more efficient and effective, but less expensive as well. Having these kinds of services also makes New Hampshire more attractive to businesses that are thinking of locating here. The long-term benefits of this project will more than outweigh the upfront cost.

Do you think all state court documents should be publicly available online? Why or why not?

Hassan: I support efforts to make New Hampshire judicial court forms, case documents and records accessible to the public through the electronic filing system. We must also ensure the e-court program protects the confidentiality of personal information filed under court protection that would not otherwise be available to the public in order to protect against security risks and fraud.

Havenstein: Yes, with exceptions. Government transparency is critical in a democratic system and there should be a presumption on the part of government that everything should be available to the public. However, I would not want documents published that jeopardize the integrity of court proceedings or the safety of witnesses or victims.

Do you believe the judicial selection commission is the best way to select judges in New Hampshire? Are there any aspects of judicial selection/appointment that you think should be changed?

Hassan: I established a Judicial Selection Commission Order 2013-06 and its members have worked tirelessly to review, interview and recommend excellent lawyers and judges for judicial selection. While the process takes time, it has resulted in a diverse, highly skilled and qualified bench.

Havenstein: Yes. The current process emphasizes the acumen and character of the candidate, rather than her or his personal politics. This prevents the politicization of appointments as has been seen in other states.

With funding always limited for the court system, what kinds of innovations do you advocate for the court system to become more efficient and more effective at dispute resolution?

Hassan: The courts are pursuing innovative strategies to become more efficient and modern. Their new state-of-the-art call center has reduced costs and improved customer service, and the capital budget included funds to allow the courts to continue moving towards a paperless system. We must also continue to pilot new case management techniques, especially with pro se litigants, all as a part of our continuing efforts to make our court system more efficient and effective.

Havenstein: I would encourage court diversion programs, such as mediation. Certainly there are complex cases that require a lot of time, but for simpler cases mediation might be the best route. Any cases that are diverted from the traditional system reduces both costs and wait times. Speedy resolutions not only make the state attractive to businesses, but ensure people are not waiting years for justice to be served.

Do you intend to pursue repeal of the stateís death penalty? Or, do you support our current capital punishment law, or a different death penalty law?

Hassan: I fully support life in prison without parole for truly heinous crimes. As a matter of faith and conscience, I do not support the death penalty. I also have a deep respect for the criminal justice system in New Hampshire and the people who sat on the Addison jury, and I respect the verdict they reached under the laws in place at the time.

Havenstein: No. Unfortunately, some crimes are so heinous that it is warranted, such as the killing of a police officer in the line of duty. I would keep the death penalty law as it is currently on the books.

What do you think should be done to ensure that low-income people take advantage of the legal services that are available here? Do you support an increase or a decrease in state funding for civil legal assistance programs?

Hassan: I have long been an advocate for legal assistance services and worked to increase finding for legal assistance through our bipartisan budget. But we must also work to encourage pro bono service by attorneys to help ensure all of our citizens have the legal resources they need.

Havenstein: I would encourage collaboration between social services and nonprofits with existing legal assistance services to make sure our less well-off fellow citizens are aware of the legal assistance programs that are out there for them.

Whatís something you donít usually say in your stump speeches that lawyers might find interesting about you?

Hassan: Iíve found that my career in law has proven deeply valuable as governor. The skills that are important as an attorney are many of the same skills that make for an effective governor; problem solving, being able to understand and balance both sides of an issue, and the ability to work with people with whom you may have disagreements.

Havenstein: As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut and my childhood hero was Alan Shepherd; my father worked with him at NASA on Project Mercury.

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