The New Hampshire Supreme Court, composed of the Chief Justice and four associate justices, sits in Concord and is the state's only appellate court.
The Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review appeals from the State trial courts and from many State administrative agencies. It also has original jurisdiction to issue writs of certiorari, prohibition, habeas corpus and other writs. The duties of the Supreme Court include correcting errors in trial court proceedings, interpreting case law and statutes and the state and federal constitutions, and administration of the courts.
Since January 2004, the Supreme Court has accepted the majority of appeals from the State's trial courts:the circuit court (the family, district, and probate divisions), and the superior court. With a few exceptions (which are listed in the definition of "mandatory appeal" in Supreme Court Rule 3), a timely appeal from a final decision of a trial court is a "mandatory appeal," meaning that the appeal is automatically accepted for appellate review by the court. In a mandatory appeal, the parties generally are given the opportunity to submit a transcript of the lower court proceedings and to file written briefs. After the briefs have been filed, the Supreme Court decides whether the case should be scheduled for oral argument or decided on the briefs alone. The court then issues a final decision, which may be a brief order, an order with some explanation, or a full written opinion.
Administrative appeals, interlocutory appeals and interlocutory transfers, petitions for original jurisdiction (such as petitions for writs of habeas corpus) and appeals from the decisions of the trial courts in a few types of cases are "discretionary appeals," meaning that the Supreme Court may decide, in its discretion, not to accept the cases for appellate review. If a discretionary appeal is accepted, it typically follows the same process as a mandatory appeal, i.e., preparation of a transcript, briefings, oral argument, if necessary, and final decision.
The appeal process and procedure are set forth in the Supreme Court Rules. The forms needed to file an appeal and instructions for completing the forms can be downloaded. Administrative appeals may often be governed by statutory requirements. Anyone intending to file an appeal with the court should review carefully the Supreme Court Rules and applicable statutes.
An Appellate Advocacy Guide, written by two experienced appellate lawyers, Attorney Lisa Wolford of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, and Attorney Stephanie Hausman of the New Hampshire Appellate Defender’s Office, is available on the New Hampshire Bar Association website. The guide was designed for parties and attorneys who do not appear regularly before the Supreme Court, and it offers valuable guidance and advice on preparing an appellate brief and presenting oral argument. As the guide itself states, however, the “guide is not a substitute for the Rules themselves, though, so practitioners should be sure to familiarize themselves with the Rules, which are found on the New Hampshire Judicial Branch website.”
After reviewing a case, the court determines whether oral argument would be helpful in deciding the case. If it decides to schedule oral argument, the case is assigned to be heard by the full court or a three-justice panel (3JX).
Cases assigned to a 3JX panel generally involve fewer issues and/or issues in which the applicable law is settled. The decision of a 3JX panel must be unanimous and a short written decision is issued in each case, usually within two months of argument.
Cases assigned to the full court are decided after oral argument by written opinion or an explanatory order.
Oral arguments are scheduled periodically throughout the year. The schedule of Oral Arguments before the court is generally published one month in advance and is available here and at the clerk's office. Oral arguments are streamed live over the internet on the judicial branch website. Audio and video recording of past arguments are available on the website.
In addition to its judicial duties, the Supreme Court is responsible for the discipline of judges and lawyers. It has created an independent Judicial Conduct Committee to investigate complaints against judges of ethical misconduct, and an independent Attorney Discipline System, to consider and review complaints of ethical misconduct against lawyers. The Supreme Court also has extensive, non-judicial responsibilities for administration of the court system, including personnel and finance. It is assisted in that effort by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The "Administrative Council," which consists of the administrative judge of the Superior Court, the administrative judge and deputy administrative judge of the Circuit Court, and the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, was established by the Supreme Court to facilitate communication within the judicial branch and to enhance the efficient administration of the judicial branch. The council meets regularly to discuss administrative and policy issues involving the Judicial Branch. A justice of the Supreme Court serves as a liaison between the Administrative Council and the court.
Office of General Counsel
The Office of General Counsel is the liaison between the Judicial Branch and its co-equal branches of state government. The office oversees all legal services and education programs within the Judicial Branch, and provides legal opinions on all fiscal and legislative matters.