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Bar News - April 20, 2016

Court News: Goodnow Retires, Leaves Legacy of Professionalism and Compassion


Don Goodnow stops for a photo in front of the NH Supreme Court.

Leaving behind the important work and colleagues he has enjoyed working alongside for decades isn’t easy for Donald Goodnow, who retires this month as director of the NH Judicial Branch Administrative Office of the Courts.

But, he and his wife, Marcia, a high school English teacher who retires in June, are looking forward to new adventures exploring America and spending more time with their children in Oregon and Alaska. “I’m going to miss the people, and I’m going to miss the work,” Goodnow said during a recent interview. “I’ve loved working for the court system, so it’s bittersweet, but I wanted to leave while there’s enough good cartilage left in my knees that I can still go for a good hike.”

Before accepting his current job 20 years ago, Goodnow served as clerk of the Strafford County Superior Court for 15 years and, before that, as deputy clerk of the Cheshire County Superior Court for a year and half. Over the course of his career, providing the citizens of New Hampshire with access to justice, and doing so in an efficient and forward-thinking way, has been his primary focus. Carrying out this mission regularly requires a quick intellect, problem-solving skills, and compassion. It is a combination of duties and skills that has suited Goodnow.

“I realized, as I was thinking about leaving, that I know the names of probably every child of every employee at the AOC,” said Goodnow, who supervises 48 employees at the AOC, across multiple departments. “I’m going to miss those personal contacts and those relationships with good people.”

A native of Keene, NH, Goodnow grew up the second of four boys. After graduating from Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, he spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Congo, where his interest in law was solidified, and he applied to Suffolk University Law School. “I knew the law would offer challenges and stimulation for a lifetime, which it does. There’s just no end to the law and my fascination with it. It’s been a great career, and it hardly turned out as I expected,” he said. “I mean no one goes to law school thinking they’re going to be a court administrator.”

Over the past 20 years, as a member of the Judicial Branch Administrative Council, Goodnow has worked closely with the administrative judges to explore new and better ways of delivering justice in New Hampshire and of serving the lawyers and litigants who rely on the court system for settling disputes. He said he is particularly proud of what the NH Judicial Branch accomplished through the work of the Innovation Commission. “There is no court system in the United States that has made as many far-reaching changes as New Hampshire has,” he said.

Those changes have included the creation of the Circuit Court and Family Division, the opening of a centralized call center, and the years-long, ongoing effort to move the entire system from the paper to the digital world. But the most important change is invisible to most people.

“There has been a cultural change, in that our court system – from the most recent clerical hire to the justices of the Supreme Court – now fully embraces change that will help improve access to justice and help manage cost,” Goodnow explains. “We certainly have different ideas about how best to do that, and resources are scarce, so it’s never easy; there are always challenges, but it’s been a great environment in which to do something I believe in.”

One of those challenges has been the increasing number of litigants who are choosing to represent themselves in court. Although the best-run legal systems in the world rely on lawyers, Goodnow says, the growth in self-representation is “a fact of life that courts have to deal with.”

“Professional services are very expensive and deservedly so,” he said. “Lawyers earn their fees; I have no misunderstanding about that... Lawyers in New Hampshire are working extraordinary hours on behalf of their clients, in many cases without receiving a professional wage for it.”

The court must seek to achieve balance in “helping pro ses without disadvantaging the person who is paying for a lawyer,” he says.

NH Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau says Goodnow embodies the qualities of a great leader. “I learned from his example every day, and I will sorely miss his wise counsel in the years to come.”

At times during Goodnow’s tenure, the scarcity of state resources threatened not only the public’s ability to access justice, but also Judicial Branch jobs. About 10 years ago, deep budget cuts led to limiting jury trials and courthouse counter hours, and 12 furlough days for each employee. “Everybody pitched in to get through that difficult period, not simply for the purpose of preserving jobs, but also because we knew that if we lost those employees, it would be years to replace that knowledge and experience they would take with them,” says Goodnow.

NH Circuit Court Deputy Administrative Judge David King said Goodnow is “one of the hardest working and most dedicated executives in New Hampshire state government” and has also been a national leader, including during his recent term as president of the Conference of State Court Administrators.

NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis said Goodnow’s service as director of the AOC has been exceptional. “I will miss his counsel and his ability to accomplish any task, no matter how difficult,” she said.

In the same spirit of change that Goodnow helped foster within the judicial system, he recognizes that having a new leader at the AOC is a positive development. “Change is good for any organization, so while it’s hard for me personally to leave, I know that it’s good for the court system.”

It’s hard, too, for his colleagues. Says NH Circuit Court Chief Administrative Judge Edwin Kelly of Goodnow: “His leadership, intellect, dedication and forthright nature will be missed by all of us who have come to admire him and call him our friend and colleague.”

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