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Judicial Branch, State of New Hampshire

Laura Kiernan
Communications Director
603-271-2646 ext 2359



Staff will focus on reducing critical case backlog

CONCORD, July 22 —The Merrimack County Superior Court, faced with a critical case backlog and staff shortage, will close the clerk's office from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily commencing August 2 to allow uninterrupted time for processing cases and related materials. No telephone or counter service will be available to lawyers, litigants or the public in the clerk's office during those hours; the automated telephone system will be monitored so that emergency requests are addressed promptly. A “drop box” will be set up inside the courthouse in Concord for filing documents during the hours when the clerk's office is closed.

Superior Court Chief Justice Robert J. Lynn said the schedule will be reviewed every 30 days to determine when the clerk's office can return to routine office hours. Reductions in the court system budget have required administrators to maintain 68 full-time non-judicial vacancies, which means court locations have fewer employees on staff to carry out day to day clerical responsibilities. That has resulted in a “critical case processing backlog” in Merrimack County, Lynn said in a memo this week to the Judicial Branch Administrative Council.

Several other court locations statewide, faced with backlogs and staff shortages, also have limited public operating hours to allow uninterrupted time for employees to process cases. Read more.

As of June 30, nearly 500 case files in Merrimack County Superior included pieces of mail that had yet to be docketed in the court record, with some documents dating back to March, according to Merrimack County Superior Court clerk William McGraw. Another 150 trial and hearing notices had not been sent out; more than 30 files needed to be closed and more than 350 files contained court orders that had not been issued. Some orders were six weeks old, McGraw said, but had not yet been mailed to the parties involved in the cases.

“Our minimal staff has no uninterrupted, productive time to concentrate on their primary role of case processing,” McGraw said. “This situation not only inhibits court operation but severely damages staff morale,” he said. Currently, three out of 9 clerical positions at Merrimack Superior are vacant; there are 2,400 criminal and civil cases pending in that court.

Lynn said that efforts had been made to assign court monitors to help with case processing when they were not in hearings or trials taking the official court record. He said there has also been consideration of assembling a “swat team” of employees from other court locations to help Merrimack clear the backlog. But, Lynn said, the significance of the backlog problem now required immediate action to give the existing staff time to work through the cases.