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Bar News - October 15, 2014

Court News: New Keene Courthouse Celebrates ‘Grand Opening’


NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis cuts the ceremonial ribbon at the new Cheshire County courthouse on Winter Street after a dedication ceremony last month.
Dozens of legal professionals and dignitaries attended a dedication ceremony at the new Cheshire County courthouse in Keene last month.

The new courthouse at 33 Winter St. combines under one roof for the first time the circuit court district and family divisions and the Cheshire County Superior Court, as well as modern technology for conducting courthouse business.

Construction of the three-story, 49,600-suqare-foot building, located across the street from the former courthouse, required a dizzying maze of financing arrangements. The Monadnock Economic Development Corporation, which built the facility, is leasing it to the NH Judicial Branch.

Although the building opened for court business in December 2013, the dedication ceremony Sept. 12 was designed as a grand opening for the state’s newest court facility and a celebration of a courthouse that isn’t located in a strip mall.

At the ceremony, Keene Circuit Court Judge Edward Burke presented a history of Cheshire County’s court facilities. The original county courthouse opened in downtown Keene in 1859 and served its purpose for 120 years. In January 1980, a new courthouse opened on Court Street and, despite its cramped quarters and deteriorating condition, remained open until late last year.

A relic from the old courthouse integrated into the new one.
Back in the 1800s, witnesses were required to stand behind a small desk while testifying in the courtroom. The county sheriff’s department used one of those original desks as a fingerprinting station for a time before Judge Burke, upon learning it had been discarded, dug it out of the trash and put it in his chambers, where it sat for about 10 years. Today, the small cherry desk has been restored and incorporated into the front of the witness stand in the third-floor superior courtroom on Winter Street.

“It’s something that just ties together all three buildings,” Burke said.

In her remarks at the ceremony, NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis reflected on the importance of a venue for justice and dispute resolution in a democracy. She compared the new courthouse building to another Cheshire County landmark.

“Even though it sits in the shadow of Mount Monadnock, the Cheshire County courthouse shines brightly each time a citizen of this county seeks equal justice under law,” she said.

Keene attorney Douglas Green, president of the Cheshire County Bar, served as chair of the Cheshire County Court Task Force, which was established under the leadership of State Senator Molly Kelly, who also made remarks at the grand opening, along with NH Superior Court Judge John Kissinger, County Commissioner and retired attorney Stillman Rogers and Keene Mayor Kendall Lane.

The county bar stood staunchly against an early proposal to relocate the county’s court facilities to Jaffrey and worked to ensure the courthouse would remain in Keene, the county’s commercial center.

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