Appeared on New Hampshire Public Radio March 5, 2007. Transcript is below:
New Hampshire’s Superior Court handles criminal cases, domestic relations, and civil suits.
It’s the only place in the state where one can get a jury trial.
But due to a reorganization, the number of judges in the state’s Superior Court is going to drop from 24 to 22.
Two of the positions are moving over to the newly created Family Court.
And that loss has Superior Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn concerned the system won’t be able to keep up with the case load.
"Our remaining jurisdiction is such that we should have about 24 ¾ judges rather as opposed to 22. Being at 22 is going to… we really do need more judges than that." [Judge Robert Lynn 5 :16]
The judicial branch says it needs more judges because the case backlog has grown 39 percent over the past decade.
The Governor’s 5 percent budget increase is just enough to maintain what the courts already do. To add to the belt-tightening, of those 22 judges who are left, 10 can retire this year.
The reason for the potential mass exodus is due to a change in the judicial retirement system four years ago.
Judges can now retire at 60 instead of 65.
However, Justice Lynn says there’s no reason to panic.
"Of the ten that are eligible to retire I don’t think anywhere near all 10 or even half are likely to retire." [Judge Robert Lynn 2 :08]
And, says Lynn, if any judges do retire there is a plan for how to replace them.
Still, John Hutson, Dean of Franklin Pierce Law School, says the combination of fewer judges and newer judges could add delays.
“Cases could slow up because the judges aren’t available because judges are working hard it’s not like judges that would still be sitting would have a lot of extra time to deal with cases so the judicial process could slow up. Cases that should be going to trial won’t be going to trial. You’re going to be having less experienced judges” [John Hutson2 :27]
But the New Hampshire Bar Association’s President Rich McNamara is a little more optimistic.
He admits there is a learning curve for new judges, but he adds that most New Hampshire residents won’t feel the pinch.
"It’s interesting time certainly. I think that all of these new nominations will be a test for the system, but we’ve been able to attract good people in the past and I hope we’ll be able to do it in the future and I expect we will" [Rich McNamara2 :10 ]
Justice Lynn isn’t worried that the Court won’t be able to attract good people.
He just wants to make sure the system runs as smoothly and as speedily as possible.
"In the mid and late 80s it was very difficult in many of the larger areas of New Hampshire – Hillsboro County, Rockingham County Merrimack County --- it was very difficult for litigants in civil cases to be able to get cases to trial. I think most people in the state – most citizens and legislators and judicial officials, etc. realize that was a very detrimental situation for our system of justice." [Judge Robert Lynn 5 :27]
Lynn doesn’t want to go back to those days.
The Governor’s proposed budget for the Court system is currently before the House Finance Committee.
For NHPR News, I’m Donna Roberson in Concord.