By Tom Jarvis
On Saturday, August 13, 2022, retired New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice, James Edward Duggan, passed away after a period of declining health. He was 79 years old.
Justice Duggan was born in Laconia, New Hampshire on August 26, 1942, and subsequently raised in Mamaroneck, New York. In 1964, after obtaining his undergrad degree from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, he served in the Peace Corps for two years. He then worked as an investigator for the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Service while attending Georgetown Law School and was subsequently hired as a staff attorney there once he received his law degree in 1969.
In 1974, Duggan moved to New Hampshire to open and run a Public Defender office in Manchester at the request of his friend, Attorney Paul Semple. Semple had previously moved to Concord to become the first full-time public defender in the Granite State.
“Jim had compassion for the people he was dealing with,” Semple says of his friend of more than 50 years. “He was a very caring and gentle person with a great sense of humor. He always had the right comment about whatever was going on.”
Three years later, Duggan began teaching at Franklin Pierce Law Center. While there, he helped to expand the Public Defender’s office statewide and founded the Appellate Defender Office, which represents indigent defendants appealing their convictions to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
“He was probably one of the most genuine, straightforward people I’ve ever met. And he was that way as a law professor, which made him the best teacher in the school,” Attorney Mitch Simon says.
Simon met Duggan in the late 1970s and they subsequently worked together at the law school for 25 years.
“He was an incredible person,” Simon continues. “He didn’t put on airs. He never needed to prove that he was the smartest guy in the room, even though he often was.”
As chief appellate defender, Duggan argued hundreds of cases, building a reputation as a trusted advocate who worked hard and stuck to the facts.
“Jim was committed to instilling respect for the constitutional mandate of defending the accused,” Duggan’s former law student, Attorney Cathy Green says. “At a time when there were only a handful of public defenders in the state, he earned the respect of all branches of government. His work was critical to establishing the New Hampshire Public Defender Program as a premier organization.”
Green continues, “He was the most influential person in my career, but I am not alone. He was the mentor and inspiration to literally hundreds of young lawyers and law students, changing the track of their careers.”
In 2011, he was nominated for a seat on the state Supreme Court by then New Hampshire Governor, Jeanne Shaheen, who is now a US Senator.
“His commitment to the law & justice for all was unwavering,” Shaheen said on Twitter. “I was honored to appoint him to the state Supreme Court back in 2001. His legacy of distinction lives on through the court & NH’s public defender system.”
As a judge, Duggan led the Court’s Access to Justice Commission and was a member of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense.
He served on the New Hampshire Supreme Court from 2001 until 2011, when he retired.
Retired New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, who refers to Duggan as an “intellectual anchor,” says once he became her colleague on the Supreme Court, she understood why his reputation was as excellent as it had been reported to be.
“We all depended upon his analysis in reaching our decisions,” Dalianis says. “When he was forced to retire by an age limit set in the 1700s, the Court lost an exceptional Justice. And when he passed on, I lost an exceptional friend.”
According to Senior Assistant Attorney General Jill Perlow, who clerked for Duggan, he continued to be a teacher and mentor even from the bench.
“He was very patient and interested in helping our careers beyond clerking,” Perlow says. “He was always extremely engaged in the process, often drafting opinions along with us. He was very passionate about the work and the role he had there.”
Outside of his professional life, Duggan was an avid reader, a talented acrylic painter, and a gardener. He also spoke fluent French and would write poems for family and friends on special occasions.
Golf, however, was one of his biggest hobbies. He began playing as a teenager when he was a caddie at the 1959 US Open at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Marmaroneck, New York. Throughout his life, he continued to play, most often with his close friends Paul Semple, Mitch Simon, and retired New Hampshire Superior Court Judge David Garfunkel, who Duggan hired as the first director of the Public Defender Program in 1979.
“Jim was loved and respected by many throughout his remarkable life. He was an exceptional teacher, an effective and caring advocate, and a thoughtful jurist who cared deeply about justice and fairness for everyone,” Garfunkel says. “He leaves behind a loving family and many students and colleagues who admired and respected him. For me personally, he was my friend for over 40 years, and I will miss him.”
He is survived by his wife, Helen Hartman, whom he married in 1978, and his two sons, Brian Duggan of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Brendan Duggan of Denver, Colorado.
A reception to honor the life and work of Justice Duggan will be held on Saturday, September 24, 2022, at 1:00 pm, at the Boys and Girls Club of Souhegan Valley, 56 Mont Vernon Street, Milford, New Hampshire.