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Bar News - December 16, 2015

Court News: Keating Hired to Lead Administrative Office of the Courts


Chris Keating in his office at the NH Judicial Council, next to the State House in Concord.

After 25 years, Chris Keating is leaving New Hampshire’s indigent defense system to become executive director at the Administrative Office of the Courts, succeeding Donald Goodnow, who will retire in April.

A New Hampshire native and Dartmouth College graduate, Keating says that although he has mixed feelings about leaving indigent defense work, he is anxious to resume running a large and complex organization with a strong, defined mission.

“This job is great,” says Keating of his role at the Judicial Council, where he works with the 24-member council on policy and funding issues and advocates before the Legislature. “[Former Judicial Council Executive Director] Nina Gardner was so critical to the success of the indigent defense system in New Hampshire, and I just very much wanted to ensure that after her long tenure that there’d be continuity and we’d be able to sustain the progress that had been made over her 25 years here.”

Having stabilized the funding and formalized procedures for indigent defense in the state, as well as helping to usher through the first pay increase in 20 years for assigned counsel in certain criminal cases, Keating says he is ready for a new challenge. He sees the opportunity to work within the Judicial Branch, which is in the midst of significant changes, as a good fit.

“The leaders of the Judicial Branch have shown their willingness to welcome innovation and to take on the challenges of improving access to justice,” Keating says. “The combination of the challenges ahead, and a climate that is open to innovation, made it an irresistible opportunity, even though it meant leaving a field I’ve been in for 25 years, in indigent defense.”

The NH Public Defender, compared with indigent defense programs in other states, has been successful in attracting qualified attorneys and keeping caseloads manageable, in part thanks to the advocacy of the Judicial Council, an independent state agency with only three employees, including Keating, who also led the NHPD for 11 years as executive director.

The NH Judicial Branch created the AOC in 1984 to foster court unification, with the goal of providing support services to the judges, clerks, and staff members who work throughout New Hampshire’s court system. In his new role, Keating will be responsible for preparing the biennial budget for the Judicial Branch in addition to overseeing several departments within the AOC, including finance, human resources, information technology and security. The AOC also works closely with the state’s Bureau of Court Facilities to provide the public with functional and effective courts and court services.

Commenting on Keating’s hiring, NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis said, “Don Goodnow led the AOC with distinction for 20 years. During his tenure, the circuit court system was successfully implemented, we made remarkable strides in automating our case management system and we began offering electronic filings for different case types, such as small claims, guardianships and state police plea-by-mail. We expect Chris to continue that tradition of strong leadership and foresight as the Court continues its commitment to technology and transparency – two powerful tools that enhance and improve the administration of justice in New Hampshire.”

Goodnow called Keating an “excellent” choice for the job. “One of the big challenges, I think, is going to be to continue to encourage a culture of innovation,” says Goodnow, who was not part of the committee that chose his successor. “The person in this job will need to be supportive of the changes and, in fact, be a spark for some of them, and I know Chris will do that.”

Keating, who plans to start his new job sometime early next year – after a new Judicial Council director is hired – says his first task will be to learn all he can about the Judicial Branch and the inner workings of the AOC.

“My overwhelming impression is that the Branch has extraordinarily talented people in the individual court locations throughout the state, and from my perspective, very talented people in key positions at the AOC, so I think my job is to do everything I can to support those people with the important work that they do,” he said.

Asked what lessons he has learned from his previous jobs that he thinks will carry over to his new role, Keating, who also once worked as assistant general counsel at Dartmouth Collge, cited his understanding of the importance of reliability and accountability when it comes to government agencies that rely on the Legislature for funding. That, and his time in the trenches.

“The thing that I’ll carry with me the most is having been a trial lawyer in Cheshire County and Sullivan County and Coos County. I’ve seen the workload of the courts and I know the kind of pressures they’re under day in and day out in the clerk’s offices and in the courtrooms, and the demands on the lawyers to juggle their schedules, so I think having an appreciation for the volume of dedicated effort that goes on every day is the thing that I’ll carry with me as I go across the river.”

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