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Supreme Court - Administration of the Court System

The following information about the Supreme Court's Administrative role was adapted with permission from the  New Hampshire Bar Association from materials developed for the bar's continuing legal education program on appellate advocacy.

Constitutional Role and Historical Background

In addition to its role as an appellate court, the New Hampshire Constitution,  pt. II, art. 73-a,  places on the Supreme Court the responsibility for the administration of all courts in the state. The text of the article provides that the Chief Justice shall be the administrative head of all courts and that, with the concurrence of a majority of the Supreme Court justices, he shall make rules governing the administration of all courts in the State, which shall have the force and effect of law.

In 1983, the legislature created a state-funded unified court system, thereby eliminating the mixture of municipal, county, and state funding of the judiciary that existed from the adoption of the State Constitution in 1784.   As a result of this change, the Supreme Court's administrative responsibility was increased significantly.

Under the Unified Court System, the Supreme Court is responsible for the creation and administration of a uniform classification and compensation system for all non-judicial court personnel, and the preparation and administration of court budgets statewide.The Supreme Court is responsible for the preparation and submission of the Judicial Branch budget to the legislature.

Court Committees

 Several committees exist to assist the court in effectively addressing its increased administrative responsibility.  These include the Committee on Judicial Conduct, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Committee on Character and Fitness, the Advisory Committee on Rules, and the Court Accreditation Commission. For more information on court committees click here.

On January 1, 2004, a new Supreme Court Attorney Discipline System went into effect in New Hampshire. It has been designed to improve the effort to protect client rights and guarantee lawyers a full and fair evaluation of complaints against them. The system is composed of the Attorney Discipline Office, a Complaint Screening Committee, Hearings Committee and Professional Conduct Committee.
 
The Committee on Judicial Conduct was created by the court to inquire into and investigate alleged misconduct on the part of any judge, master, referee, court stenographer or reporter, or court clerk or deputy clerk, including registers of probate and any persons performing the duties of a clerk or register.  The committee is independent from the court system and has its own office, budget and executive director. The committee may issue a warning, dispose of a grievance against a judge by informal agreement or adjustment, or recommend that the court impose formal discipline.

The court established the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics in 2001 to assist judges in complying with the Code of Judicial Conduct.  The committee renders advisory opinions on the propriety of proposed conduct of individuals subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct.  The committee consists of five members with expertise in the area of judicial ethics.

The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the examination and admission of attorneys to the State Bar. Under the rules of the court, the New Hampshire Bar Examination must be taken by all persons seeking admission to practice law in the State.  A thirteen-member Board of Bar Examiners is appointed by the court to prepare and administer two examinations a year to those applying for admission to the Bar.  After examinations are graded, the Board reports the results to the Supreme Court.

In conjunction with bar admission, the seven-member Committee on Character and Fitness, established by the Supreme Court in the spring of 1978, examines answers given by applicants on the petition and questionnaire filed with the court prior to taking the Bar Examination.  It also considers responses supplied by employers and personal acquaintances of the applicants and determines whether or not the applicant has established his or her moral character and fitness to be admitted to the Bar.

To provide for input from the public, as well as the bench and bar, the Supreme Court has established a thirteen-person Advisory Committee on Rules and has adopted procedures for amending or adding to rules in all the New Hampshire courts.

The Advisory Committee is responsible for periodically reviewing all court rules; for receiving suggestions from the public, the bench and the bar, holding hearings and ensuring an opportunity to comment on matters before the committee; and for submitting proposed rules and amendments to the court at least annually.  The procedures also provide both for wide distribution of the committee's proposals, with invitations for comment, and for hearings before the court if it deems them desirable.

The New Hampshire Court Accreditation Commission was established by the legislature in 1971 and reconstituted in 1989.The nine-member Commission reviews the quality and adequacy of court facilities against prescribed standards and assists in the planning of new courthouses.

 The Administrative Council

The Administrative Council consists of an administrative judge from the Superior, District and Probate divisons, an associate justice of the Supreme Court, and the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.  The Administrative Council was established to facilitate communication and coordination among the courts, and to make recommendations to the Supreme Court about policies for the court system.

Administrative Office of the Courts

To assist the Supreme Court in exercising the expanded administrative, financial and non-judicial personnel management responsibilities occasioned by the implementation of the State-funded Unified Court System, the Supreme Court created the Administrative Office of the Courts.

The administrative staff, headed by a director, is responsible for the preparation and administration of the judicial branch budget, the establishment of standardized budgeting and accounting procedures in the State's courts, and the audit of all court accounts.

The AOC is also in charge of the administration of the uniform non-judicial personnel classification and compensation system, centralized purchasing, data processing, forms and records management and the collection and maintenance of statistics.

Adapted from: "Appellate Advocacy 2002," New Hampshire Bar Association Continuing Legal Education Programs, June 20, 2002.

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