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Bar News - October 19, 2016

Court News: Circuit Court Braces for Judge Shortage with ADR

Circuit Court Judges Retiring Over the Next 8 Months

Full-Time Judges

Judge Jim Patten – turns 70 Jan. 12, Carroll County
Judge John Emery – turn 70 Jan. 26, Manchester
Judge Ed Burke – retiring early February, Keene
Judge James Carroll – retiring June 17, Laconia

Part-Time Judges

Judge Greg Michael – retiring in December, Manchester
Judge L. Phillips Runyon III – turns 70 April 20, Jaffrey/Peterborough

Retired Judges
(presiding part-time, planning to discontinue service)

Judge Paul Lawrence, Goffstown
Judge John Korbey, Salem

At least four full-time and the equivalent of four part-time Circuit Court judges will retire between now and mid-2017, and with a new governor coming into office, it’s unlikely that those positions will be filled quickly.

NH Circuit Court Chief Administrative Judge Edwin Kelly said the court is working on a multi-pronged plan, mostly involving aggressive alternative dispute resolution efforts, to keep courts operating smoothly during the impending judge shortage (see related story, including the list of retired judges and masters who will be conducting ADR sessions). Kelly said an additional two full-time judges could potentially retire within the same time period.

The first step in the complex scheduling task involves asking judges across the state to sort through their dockets looking for marital cases that could benefit from ADR, said Kelly. The divorce cases are being sorted into three categories: cases involving no children, no significant assets or fault claimed; cases of “misperception,” generally with unrepresented parties who seek resolutions for which the law does not allow; and cases that are genuinely complex, with high assets and complicated legal issues. This sorting is designed to help the court schedule and approach cases more efficiently, Kelly said.

“Many of the cases have been around for a while and they deserve hearings, so we’re trying to put judges in the room with them,” Kelly said. “So far, what we’re finding is that there is real interest on the part of the bar in taking advantage of this.”

The court is focusing on the Family Division, because it has the most case types that are required by statute to be heard within a certain time period, and in courts in Manchester and Brentwood, which are expected to experience the brunt of the shortage. In cases that do not involve lawyers – about 70 percent of the cases in Manchester – the ADR likely will take the form of facilitated mediation and coaching with retired judges, and document preparation by court case managers. In cases with lawyers, the process will more closely resemble neutral case evaluation (Learn more).

Kelly said the situation with the retirements is quickening the pace of an expansion of the court’s ADR offerings. He said the judges involved have already received a half-day training and will be getting together again soon.

“When all is said and done, we will be expanding this around the state because it’s a good thing to do. I’d love to do it in the best of circumstances… but the good news is we will be starting it up, and the judges are excited about it, and they really believe in it, and the lawyers we’ve spoken with about it seem to be pretty enthusiastic in their response,” Kelly said. “We are 100 percent open to all types of ADR during this timeframe and we’re going to do whatever we can do move these cases off.”

The Circuit Court at the same time is working to launch electronic filing in estate cases by May.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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