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Hassan names new panel to recommend judicial nominees

CONCORD – Gov. Maggie Hassan on Tuesday created a new Judicial Selection Commission whose first task will be to recommend to her nominees for three state circuit court posts soon to be open as a result of pending retirements.

According to the governor’s office, the commission, created by executive order, “will broadly seek judicial candidates, evaluate all potential applicants and recommend qualified applicants based on experience, good character and judicial temperament.”

Former Gov. John Lynch’s Judicial Selection Commission, created in February 2005, soon after he took office, dissolved on Jan. 1 of this year.

There is no statute establishing a judicial selection commission. In New Hampshire, the state constitution gives the process of naming judges solely to the executive branch.

Hassan Tuesday issued her own order creating her own committee. It will recommend potential judicial nominees to her, but it will be her decision who to nominate. It is then the five-member Executive Council’s responsibility to decide whether to confirm her nominees.

The Hassan commission is co-chaired by Emily Rice, attorney at the Bernstein Shur law firm, and James Rosenberg, attorney at the Shaheen and Gordon law firm.

Members include attorney Elliott Berry from New Hampshire Legal Assistance; Kathleen Goode, who served as director of appointments for Govs. Jeanne Shaheen and Lynch; attorney Martha Hornick from the New Hampshire Public Defenders Office in Littleton; attorney Michael Lewis, a former homicide prosecutor with the New Hampshire Department of Justice and now an associate at the Rath, Young and Pignatelli law firm; Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau; Manchester Chief of Police David Mara; Arthur Nichols, president and chief executive officer of Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene; attorney Wilfred Sanders, Jr., of the Pierce Atwood law firm; and Danette Wineberg, adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and former Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary for The Timberland Company.

The governor’s office said members will serve terms of three years, with the option of additional terms at the invitation of the governor.

Hassan put no “sunset” -- or dissolution -- date on her commission. If she is not reelected in 2014, the next governor would have the authority to either keep her order, and commission, in place or to rescind her order, as former Gov. Craig Benson did in 2003 in abolishing the selection commission first established by Shaheen in 2000.

On Hassan’s new commission, all five of the state’s executive council districts are represented, the governor’s office said.

“Ensuring an effective and fair judicial system in New Hampshire requires rising above partisanship and identifying individuals with utmost character, experience and integrity to serve as judges,” Hassan said in the announcement. “Our commission will bring together individuals with a deep understanding of New Hampshire’s system of justice in order to recommend highly qualified candidates to fill judicial vacancies.”

The governor’s office said the commission will initially focus on recruiting candidates to fill three upcoming vacancies on New Hampshire’s Circuit Court due to the pending retirements of the judges Clifford Kinghorn, Richard Hampe, and Christina O’Neill.

The governor’s office said that in evaluating applicants for judicial office, the commission “will consider such factors as integrity, legal knowledge and ability, judicial temperament, impartiality, commitment to justice, experience, diligence, administrative and communication skills, and public service. Applicants for judicial office shall be considered without regard to race, disability, religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, familial status or political affiliation.”

As was the case with past commissions, all records and deliberations regarding people being considered as prospective nominees “shall be held in strict confidence by the commission but shall be available to the governor,” according to the executive order. “The names of persons considered by the commission shall remain confidential except to the extent necessary for the commission to carry out its responsibility to evaluate applicants.”


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