N.H. Justice Faces State Senate Impeachment Trial

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Sunday September 17 12:02 PM ET

N.H. Justice Faces State Senate Impeachment Trial


By Tim McLaughlin

BOSTON (Reuters) - The historic state senate trial to remove the chief justice from New Hampshire's highest court opens on Monday in a case that stemmed from a messy divorce, but soon turned into a full-fledged constitutional crisis that entangled four of the bench's five justices.

New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice David Brock, 64, the state's highest ranking jurist since 1986, faces four charges, including an accusation that he failed to report that fellow justice, Stephen Thayer, who has since resigned, was trying to influence Thayer's divorce case.

Brock becomes the first jurist to face a trial in New Hampshire's senate since 1790.

An investigation made public in March sent shock waves through the U.S. legal community because it centered on a respected bench that once included U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) Justice David Souter.

Unlike Woodbury Langdon, who resigned more than 200 years ago to avoid a senate trial on a charge of not showing up for work, Brock has chosen to fight for his judicial life. He contends he made mistakes, but did nothing malicious.

He will be judged by 24 members in the New Hampshire Senate, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. A two-thirds majority is needed for Brock's removal and conviction.

The judicial crisis started when it became public that Brock was accused of failing to report a conversation he allegedly heard in which Thayer allegedly tried to influence which state judges heard his divorce case. Thayer later quit to avoid criminal prosecution.

The question of judicial misconduct came to the attention of New Hampshire Attorney General Philip McLaughlin through a memorandum written by state Supreme Court clerk Howard Zibel in which Zibel accused the justices of continuing to participate in cases even after they recused themselves to avoid conflict of interest.

According to a 112-page report by McLaughlin, Thayer threatened Brock when he learned of Zibel's memo by saying, ``If Zibel files this, it's going to blow up the Supreme Court, and I'm not going to hang alone.''

New Hampshire's House of Representatives voted 253 to 95 in July to impeach Brock.

But the House rejected impeachment for Supreme Court Justices Sherman Horton and John Broderick. McLaughlin had accused Horton and Broderick of commenting on cases in which they had disqualified themselves because of conflict of interest.

Justice Joseph Nadeau, who was not implicated in the investigation, has served as acting chief justice during the crisis. New Hampshire's first woman on the high court, Linda Dalianis, was sworn in to replace Thayer.

Brock's case also carries political charges. Some lawmakers have been accused of exacting revenge on the justices after a court decision on school funding put pressure on lawmakers to implement an income tax, something that New Hampshire has long refused to do.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 17, 2000

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