Cloudy
53°
Cloudy
Hi 57° | Lo 45°

Starr retires after 35 years as head of Concord’s federal court

  • Jim Starr is retiring after working as clerk at the federal court in Concord for nearly 30 years. He was at his office wrapping up work on Friday afternoon, January 3, 2014.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jim Starr is retiring after working as clerk at the federal court in Concord for nearly 30 years. He was at his office wrapping up work on Friday afternoon, January 3, 2014.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Jim Starr is retiring after working as clerk at the federal court in Concord for nearly 30 years. He was at his office wrapping up work on Friday afternoon, January 3, 2014.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jim Starr is retiring after working as clerk at the federal court in Concord for nearly 30 years. He was at his office wrapping up work on Friday afternoon, January 3, 2014.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Jim Starr is retiring after working as clerk at the federal court in Concord for nearly 30 years. He was at his office wrapping up work on Friday afternoon, January 3, 2014.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Jim Starr is retiring after working as clerk at the federal court in Concord for nearly 30 years. He was at his office wrapping up work on Friday afternoon, January 3, 2014.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

The year was 1985, and Jim Starr, the newly appointed lead clerk for Concord’s U.S. District Court, had a grand vision. Starr had just secured a $10,000 grant, and he planned to use the money to automate portions of the jury selection process. At the time, everything was documented by hand or typewriter, and the paperwork – let alone the man hours – was piling up. He purchased a single word-processing computer – a Wang, the court’s first – and hired a specialist to program it to track and organize candidate pools.

It was an ambitious project and, at least in the short-run, one that failed miserably.

“It was not successful,” Starr said yesterday, chuckling as he reflected on what has proved a minor blemish in an otherwise flawless 31/2-decade career, which will close Friday with his retirement.

“(Jim is) the kind of guy who, you come in on a weekend, and he’s there working on the budget, the kind of guy who, during a storm, he’s there walking the halls,” said Judge Paul Barbadoro. “Just that kind of guy who has given the courts 100 percent year after year.”

Starr began clerking in 1978 and quickly ascended the ranks. He was promoted to deputy clerk at Hillsborough County Superior Court in 1979, and took over at Merrimack County Superior Court four years later.

In 1984, Starr was tapped to head the federal court in Concord. At that time, the courthouse had just two courtrooms, eight clerks and no computerized technology. Courtroom minutes were transcribed by hand and the docket was updated using cardstock, paper folders and typewriters.

The role fit Starr like a glove. A native of Iowa, he studied history and business as an undergraduate and earned a law degree before moving to New Hampshire. He was also attentive and compulsively organized.

“Kind of fit me perfectly,” Starr said. “A legal background and business background, and in a place that I fell in love with.”

As head of the court, Starr ushered in an era of automation – though he is quick to credit the move as much to coincidence as to time and sweat. By the late 1980s and early ’90s, computers were becoming cheaper and more reliable, and Starr, alongside other clerks, pressed the federal government to allow small states to digitize record keeping.

Starr designed the court’s first website in the 1990s and developed a process for the public to search and access court decisions electronically. A decade later, he helped create the country’s first electronic filing system, a massive undertaking that allowed lawyers to submit court pleadings through the internet.

“The electronic filing project was huge,” Barbadoro said. “We take it for granted now that the system works, but there was a great deal of apprehension about it then.”

Starr planned meticulously for the transition, drafting educational material and convening countless training seminars for attorneys and paralegals, Barbadoro said.

In a letter last year nominating Starr for the New Hampshire Bar Association’s distinguished service award – which he later won – Dan Lynch, the court’s deputy clerk and the man who will succeed Starr upon his retirement, wrote, “In short, under Jim’s leadership the court has gone from pens and typewriters, to electronic case filing, to remote computing from smart phones and iPads, to Voice Over IP and seemingly everything technology related in-between.”

Lynch also noted that Starr has served on several state and national committees, and has helped develop “critical national court policies ranging from gender equality to court performance standards to local court funding formulas.” Starr also helped establish a state branch office for the Federal Defender Program in 1994.

When the court moved into its new building on Pleasant Street in the late 1990s, Starr managed every phase of the five-year process, soliciting design feedback from judges and lawyers, marking up blueprints and reading everything he could find on the most efficient and user-friendly courthouses. He even built a mock plywood courtroom so staff could sit in it and test out what worked and what needed adjusting.

The result spoke for itself, Barbadoro said. The courthouse was one of the first to have teleconferencing and real-time court transcripts, with which judges could instantaneously call up statements made in court.

Starr also helped the court weather countless federal budget cuts, the most recent of which have come in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse.

“Jim foresaw much of what was coming,” Barbadoro said. “He planned ahead. He was careful with the hiring and largely avoided layoffs and furloughs, as other courts have had to do.”

Starr said he cut costs by prioritizing expenses and maintaining a list of pressing projects for moments when the budget allowed.

But colleagues and friends said one of Starr’s most lasting legacies will be his professional demeanor.

“He’s just an all-around nice guy,” said Bill Glahn, an attorney at McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton.

That kindness has directly translated to the rest of Starr’s staff, he noted.

“The members of Jim’s staff are always incredibly courteous and helpful,” Glahn said. “A lot of that comes from the top. Jim views his job as, ‘I’m here to help you.’ ”

The sentiment was echoed in Lynch’s letter.

“I believe it is accurate to say that over (his career), no person has had a greater impact on the quality of service provided by the state and federal judiciary in this state than Jim Starr,” he wrote.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

Legacy Comments0
There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.