2011 was a remarkably active year in the New Hampshire legislature for bills related to the judiciary. The Circuit Court was created (HB 609) through the consolidation of the state’s probate courts, district courts, and judicial branch family division. HR 7 directed the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether grounds exist to impeach marital master Phillip Cross and/or any justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court. And in a letter to the editor, House Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Robert Rowe (R) is suggesting 2012 will be just as active.
Rep. Rowe’s letter, appearing in the July 24 Nashua Telegraph, included references to two 2011 bills:
CACR 11 is a constitutional amendment that would replace the state’s life tenure (technically, service until 70) with 5-year terms. At the end of a term, the judge would have to be reappointed by the governor and executive council.
HB 344 establishes a judicial performance review commission made up of 11 members (5 lawyers, 6 non-lawyers) and requires each trial court judge and marital master to be reviewed by the commission every 3 years. The reviews, which would have to be posted online, would look at
- Integrity, legal knowledge and ability, judicial temperament, impartiality, commitment to justice, and adherence to the code of judicial conduct
- Administrative and communicative skills
- Attendance, swiftness of orders or reports in the case of marital masters, and the number of appeals of their decisions compared to other judges or marital masters in the same court
Rowe tempered his support for CACR 11 and HB 344 by expressing his preferred alternatives
- Revise the judiciary’s existing judicial performance evaluation system by adding members of the public and Legislature, specifically reporting to the public on the results of individual judges, and improving the response rate of surveys conducted about the judges
- Mandate that each judge come before the governor and Executive Council for a public review with public commentary every five years