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Dalianis sworn in as chief justice



Last modified: Thursday, December 16, 2010
Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis took the oath of office yesterday to become New Hampshire's 35th Supreme Court chief justice and the first woman to hold that title.

"Our state constitution guarantees fair and equal access to justice from Nashua to Pittsburg for all our citizens," Dalianis said. "As chief justice, my promise to you is I will work as hard as I can with my colleagues . . . to make sure we continue to fulfill our obligation to maintain justice for all of our citizens."

The brief swearing-in ceremony was attended by an overflowing crowd of dignitaries and friends, all paying tribute to Dalianis, 62, of Nashua. Friends recalled Dalianis's Christmas parties and sense of humor while colleagues and politicians cited her professionalism and sharpness.

"Linda has a keen intellect, many years of service working in the judicial branch, and she is able to relate the law to people in a way that is wonderfully compassionate," said Gov. John Lynch, moments before he administered the oath to Dalianis, as her husband Griffin, her sons Matt and Ben, and her future daughter-in-law stood behind her.

As her family gathered around her, Dalianis quipped to photographers that this was "the money shot."

In introducing Dalianis, Supreme Court Associate Justice James Duggan called the day a milestone at the end of a long journey that began in 1890, when the Supreme Court ruled that women can practice law. Since then, many of New Hampshire's milestones have been achieved by Dalianis. She became the first female judge appointed to the Superior Court in 1980, the first female chief justice of the Superior Court in 2000 and the first female Supreme Court judge the same year.

In an interview, Dalianis said the knowledge that she was the first woman to achieve these milestones used to weigh on her 30 to 20 years ago, when any mistake she made could have hurt the chances of other women coming after her.

"Once the playing field became a little more level, once women were no longer regarded as curiosities in courtrooms . . . then it stopped weighing so heavily on me," Dalianis said. "Today, it's pretty much a forgotten problem."

Ceremony attendees included Attorney General Michael Delaney, Senate President Peter Bragdon, House Speaker William O'Brien, Executive Council members and other legislators. Many said they had personal experiences with Dalianis.

O'Brien, a lawyer, has appeared before Dalianis in court.

"I was impressed with her legal acumen, her consideration of arguments and her fair jurisprudence," O'Brien said.

Delaney praised her as a "mentor and role model" to members of the New Hampshire bar.

Democratic Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a former executive councilor, voted to confirm Dalianis to the Superior Court in 1980. "She had a good feeling for law and how justice should be dispensed," D'Allesandro said. "She believes justice for all means equal justice for all, not just for the 'haves.' "

Attendees represented all parts of Dalianis's life, from the nearly 40 students from Villa Augustina School, where Dalianis graduated high school in 1966, to her former bosses and her longtime friends from Nashua.

In her speech, Dalianis thanked retired attorney Bob Bleakney, a partner at the Sullivan and Worcester law firm in Boston, who hired her as a secretary and promoted her to law clerk, while she was still in law school. Bleakney said afterward that he was "bursting with pride" in Dalianis. Even back in the 1970s, Bleakney said, "I just knew she was bright, able and loved the law enough to be in law school and working at the same time."

Dalianis's friend Sandi Stellos called Dalianis the "belle of the ball" at Christmas parties that Dalianis and her husband hosted. "She's serious in her ways, then all of a sudden she has a burst of energy and is as fun as can be," Stellos said.

Friends say Dalianis loves to read. Every Sunday, she and her husband will sit and read the newspapers - including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, New Hampshire Union Leader and Nashua Telegraph, said friends Larry and Donna Chouramanis.

Nancy McHugh, a family friend of Dalianis since the 1970s, said Dalianis never discusses her position in her personal life. "She's amazingly fair and humble," McHugh said. "Among her friends, she's just Linda."

(Shira Schoenberg can be reached at 369-3319 or sschoenberg@cmonitor.com.)