N.H. Court Crisis Nears Key Day

Wednesday, July 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — After two months of interviews and testimony, lawmakers were prepared to decide whether three New Hampshire Supreme Court justices should be impeached over alleged ethics violations.

The way the vote will go ``depends on who you ask,'' Henry Mock, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday. ``It's like a roller coaster.''

The committee must decide to recommend whether Chief Justice David Brock and Justices Sherman Horton and John Broderick should be impeached, reprimanded or cleared.

The vote was expected Wednesday. The House is scheduled to vote on the committee's recommendation later this month.

Brock, the chief justice since 1986, is accused of intervening with a lower court judge in a case involving a state senator because the senator could help win pay raises for the bench — a charge Brock denies.

The committee will also decide if Brock placed the court's confidentiality above the need to report misconduct by other justices.

He is also implicated in former Justice Stephen Thayer's attempt to influence his own divorce case and accused of failing to promptly report other alleged incidents of misconduct by Thayer, who resigned when the scandal broke in March.

The committee's work began in April, after Attorney General Philip McLaughlin said that while investigating Thayer he came across ethics violations by the rest of the court.

Most disturbing, McLaughlin said, was that Brock fostered an atmosphere in which judges who had conflicts of interest in cases were allowed to take part in discussions about them.

In public testimony before the committee last month, Brock apologized for his poor judgment, but said he meant no harm. He said he knew immediately that Thayer acted inappropriately, and he believed he was reacting to a sensitive situation in the best possible way.

The committee had to decide whether Brock's judgment rises to the level of an impeachable offense, defined in the state Constitution as corruption, bribery, malpractice or maladministration of office.

Horton and Broderick also have been sharply criticized by lawmakers for their handling of Thayer's misconduct and their failure to completely disqualify themselves from cases in which they had conflicts.

Mock said the case has burdened lawmakers.

``Some are saying they're not sleeping,'' Mock said. ``I can concur with that.''

Justices are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Executive Council, an elected body that reviews nominations and contracts. Justices serve life terms but must retire at 70.


On the Net: Supreme Court: http://www.state.nh.us/courts/supreme.htm

Judiciary Committee links: http://www.state.nh.us/gencourt/ngencourt.html