Late Superior Court Judge Harold Perkins remembered for wit, kindness
LACONIA — The public got a rare look inside New Hampshire's judicial workings Tuesday as the state's legal community paid homage to the late Judge Harold "Harry" W. Perkins, a man remembered as a mentor to young lawyers and judges alike.
Perkins, who spent 18 years as a New Hampshire Superior Court judge after a three-year stint as a Concord District Court judge, died Aug. 23 at age 77.
New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks called him the Teflon trial judge, overturned only once by the Supreme Court and then, he joked, it was the high court that got it wrong.
The judge was a man who came across as more neighborly than scholarly, said Belknap County Attorney Lauren Noether, but one who made them all better attorneys because he brought out the best in his colleagues.
Attorney Charles Douglas, a former Supreme Court justice, talked about the time before Perkins became a judge. In the late 1960s, both were lawyers representing clients charged with using derisive words in a public place. It was a Friday night in Henniker District Court and when the white-haired clerk asked if Perkins waived the reading of the profanity-laced complaint, he said no. And so the clerk read the complaint.
Douglas, new to the legal arena, didn't know what to do. When the clerk asked him if he waived the reading of the complaint against his client, he followed Perkins' lead and said no. The white-haired clerk had to read obscene words once again.
Afterward, Douglas asked Perkins why he made the clerk read the complaints. Perkins told him the 70 New England College students sitting in the courtroom that night expected to be entertained. And, he said, Douglas could expect that some of them would be arrested for DWI or a stop sign violation and "you want to be the one they call."
Perkins, he said, had given him his first legal marketing lesson.
Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler recalled his first Superior Court trial, again in Hillsborugh County. He had been a judge for all of three weeks when the judges — which included now-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Linda Dalianis, William Groff, Walter Murphy, James J. Barry Jr. and Perkins — said he was ready.
"I wasn't," he said.
He was assigned a civil trial where one of the attorneys, who he described as "very flamboyant," proceeded to take full advantage of his greenness.
"Somehow I ended up in Harry's chambers," he said. Perkins guided him through that trial and, Smukler said, was his mentor for the rest of his life.
The two would later preside together in Belknap County.
Perkins always found something he liked about every case, he said, even things that might exasperate someone else.
"I have to decide this case based on the preponderance of perjury," Smukler recalled Perkins telling him about one civil lawsuit.
That brought loud laughs among the state Supreme Court justices, superior court judges, attorneys, court clerks, his family members and friends who filled Courtroom 1 inside Belknap County Superior Court, where Perkins presided for many years.
Smukler said he visited the retired judge when he was at a rehabilitation center, where Perkins convinced the nurses to allow him a daily dose of liquor. During one visit, Perkins and Smukler each nursed a scotch. A nurse came into the room and told Perkins that his advice had worked — she had gotten out of jury duty.
Was the judge named Smukler, Perkins asked her.
It was, she told him.
Then Perkins introduced her to Smukler.
A photograph of Perkins, taken by Laconia Citizen photographer Gordon D. King on Perkins' last day as a Superior Court judge, was unveiled and later placed on the wall outside his courtroom.
Chief Justice Dalianis opened the memorial service, saying that for all the years he was on the bench, Perkins never became blase. In fact, he was angry that he had to give up the judgeship when he turned 70.
He didn't give up the law, however, continuing in the legal field as a highly sought-after mediator.
During his legal career, Perkins served on the New Hampshire Bar Association's Board of Governors and was a member of the Supreme Court's Professional Conduct Committee from 1979 through 1988, serving as chairman the last five years.
Prior to becoming a member of the NH Bar in 1963, Perkins was employed by the U.S. Senate as a staff member and worked on the Senate floor while attending American University's Washington College of Law, where he earned his law degree. He received his undergraduate degree from New England College in 1958.
This year, the New Hampshire Bar Association named him the 2013 recipient of the William A. Grimes Award for Judicial Professionalism. The award is presented to a judge that best fits the following: "The judges therefore should always be men of learning and experience in the laws, of exemplary morals, great patience, calmness, coolness and attention. Their minds should not be distracted with jarring interests; they should not be dependent upon any man or body of men."John Adams, 1776.