Bar News - October 19, 2016
New Gov Will Nominate 3 for Supreme Court
Candidates Surveyed on Justice Issues
New Hampshire’s next governor will likely have the opportunity to nominate three justices to the NH Supreme Court, as three of the five current justices will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 within the next three years.
Bar News sent a brief questionnaire to the three candidates vying for the governor’s office whose names will appear on the general election ballot in November. Executive Council Chris Sununu (R-Newfields) chose not to answer the questions, which cover judicial selection, budget priorities and other justice issues. His campaign said that he was working on it, but then never responded to follow-up emails.
The responses submitted by candidates Max Abramson, a Republican state representative from Seabrook, who is running as a Libertarian, and Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern (D-Concord), follow:
Would you continue to use the judicial selection process that involves screening candidates by a judicial selection commission?
Abramson: No, I would use a different system of assisted appointment by merit. Judicial appointments to either the superior courts or the New Hampshire Supreme Court would exclude current members of the Attorney General’s Office as a clear conflict of interest. As governor, I would recommend prospects from a broad range of backgrounds, including civil and criminal defense attorneys, and the Public Defender program, especially those who have done pro bono work or who have worked on wrongful conviction cases.
Van Ostern: Yes. As Governor of New Hampshire, I will appoint an independent Judicial Selection Commission to help recruit, interview, and select competent candidates to be nominated as New Hampshire judges, as three of the past four Governors have done successfully.
The new governor will likely be nominating three justices to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Please describe the qualities and previous experience that you would seek in candidates to serve on the Supreme Court.
Abramson: A commitment to the Constitution and due process must be the first requirement. I would not appoint either liberal nor conservative “activist” judges. I would not want judges who mechanically apply outdated precedent, but follow the spirit and intent given in Jacobs, 149 NH 505 (2003).
Van Ostern: I believe New Hampshire citizens deserve a fair, impartial justice system managed by well-qualified judges who are selected on the basis of merit and not politics. It is in the best interest of all our citizens to attract the top judicial talent in the state, thoroughly review the candidate’s qualifications, and select judicial candidates based on competency, qualification, intellect, temperament and integrity.
What would your budget priorities be with regard to the NH Judicial Branch?
Abramson: The state needs to prosecute far fewer cases, and, in particular, victimless crimes. Estimates of one-third to three-quarters of cases pursued are now victimless. Until the late 1970s, New Hampshire had fewer than 200 people incarcerated. That number has grown to 3,800. For those with mental health issues, addiction, or other problems that can be solved without prison, I would promote outpatient treatment, recovery support, job training, employment support, and other alternative forms of rehabilitation.
Van Ostern: I would ensure New Hampshire’s judicial branch has the resources it needs to operate a fair, impartial, and timely court system without unreasonable wait times or delays. New Hampshire citizens deserve no less.
What else do you think is most important for attorneys who are licensed to practice law in New Hampshire to know about your platform?
Abramson: As a current state representative, I have been a strong supporter of jury nullification. Judges need to inform juries during closing instructions of their right and duty to acquit in any case where the law is being unjustly applied. The NH Supreme Court must also develop a more realistic standard of evidentiary review that allows the trial judge, sitting as the “13th juror,” to reject convictions that might be based on an excessive reliance on forensics, testimony, or possible misinterpretation of jury instructions.
Van Ostern: I have a record of leaving partisanship at the door and working with Democrats and Republicans to move our state forward the New Hampshire way. As Governor, I’ll take a pragmatic approach to growing the economy, boosting wages and strengthening New Hampshire’s workforce without an income or sales tax. I’ll also fight New Hampshire’s opioid crisis, the most urgent public health crisis facing our state, by making the bipartisan New Hampshire Health Protection Plan permanent that has already provided substance use disorder treatment to 7,500 Granite Staters.