May 7, 2001 Contact: Laura Kiernan
Public Information Officer
271-2646 x359

NEWS RELEASE

 

CONCORD—The New Hampshire Supreme Court, which has overseen the judicial disciplinary process here for almost 25 years, announced today that it has approved the creation of a new Judicial Conduct Commission that would be totally independent of the court system and have its own staff, office space, and funding.

The Supreme Court action follows the report and recommendations of the "Task Force for the Renewal of Judicial Conduct Procedures" which were released in January. Political leaders, lawmakers and the public had been asked to comment on the changes proposed in the report.

Chief Justice David A. Brock said the court’s action recognizes its longstanding responsibility for judicial discipline, which was formalized in 1977 with the creation of the existing Judicial Conduct Committee.

"We are firmly behind the new independent operating structure of the Judicial Conduct Commission," Brock said, speaking for the full court. "We believe it will strengthen public confidence in the process of reviewing judicial conduct."

The commission would replace the current JCC which has relied upon the Supreme Court for staff and funding. The new commission would be funded by a direct appropriation from the legislature, which was the recommendation of the task force. The Supreme Court sees that action as a key step in establishing the new Commission’s independence from the judges it will oversee.

The new court rule establishing the independent commission ends the Supreme Court’s sole authority to appoint members to the JCC and gives the governor, legislative leaders, and the New Hampshire Bar power to appoint a majority of the 11 commission members. For the first time, a majority of the commission would be made up of non-lawyer, non-judge public members.

"We look forward to achieving this goal and we hope the legislature will provide the funds for it," Brock said. He noted that pending legislation sponsored by State Sen. Edward M Gordon (R-Bristol) would also establish an independent commission. A House judiciary subcommittee, chaired by State Rep. Robert H. Rowe (R-Amherst), is also considering the issue.

In a letter to the Supreme Court, the task force had urged prompt adoption of the recommendations, recognizing the expressed interest of the legislature in changing the process by which the conduct of judges is reviewed.

The Task Force which was co-chaired by Hampton attorney Wilfred L. Sanders Jr., and the Rev. Jonathan DeFelice, the president of St. Anselm College, noted that "determining whether or not the process will be truly independent of the court system" will depend on whether the legislature decides to fund the new commission’s operations, instead of leaving it up to the court.

The Supreme Court is also in the process of developing a separate rule to establish a new "Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics" which the task force also recommended. The new commission would advise judges on questions arising under the Code of Judicial Conduct.