Dalianis confirmed as state's chief justice

Last modified: 12/9/2010 12:00:00 AM
The Executive Council yesterday unanimously confirmed state Supreme Court Justice Linda Dalianis to become New Hampshire's first female chief justice.

Dalianis will replace retired chief justice John Broderick. The council confirmed Judge Robert Lynn to replace Dalianis as a justice. It also approved the appointments of Judge Kristin Spath to Concord District Court and Judge James Carroll to Laconia District Court.

Dalianis and Lynn will be sworn in next week. Spath and Carroll will start after Jan. 1.

'Over her 30 years on the bench, Justice Dalianis has distinguished herself as a thoughtful jurist who possesses a deep commitment to justice and keen intellect,' said Gov. John Lynch, who nominated her. 'I am confident she will be a strong administrator of the court system, helping to guide the courts into the future and ensure fairness for all of our people.'

Dalianis said in a statement, 'I'm very grateful to the governor and council for their support, and I look forward to working with the governor and the Legislature going forward.'

The confirmations sailed through with almost no discussion, though last week's public hearings on the nominees lasted more than six hours.

Councilor Ray Wieczorek, a Manchester Republican, said he had hoped the governor and council would wait until the new council took office in January. The new council will have five Republicans, while the current council has three Democrats and two Republicans.

But, Wieczorek said, 'all the people here are people I would support in January, so I will support them today.'

Dalianis, of Nashua, has a history as a trailblazer for female attorneys and judges. She became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court when she was appointed by former governor Jeanne Shaheen in 2000.

She was the first woman appointed as a superior court judge in 1980. Before that, Dalianis was the first female lawyer hired at the Nashua law firm of Hamblett & Kerrigan and the state's first female marital master.

Shaheen yesterday called Dalianis a role model and a pioneer.

'Her independent and thoughtful approach to the law is what led me to appoint her in 2000,' Shaheen said. 'I am confident she will lead the New Hampshire Supreme Court with distinction and integrity.'

Dalianis said during her confirmation hearing that she was humbled and proud to hold that place in history. She cited the New Hampshire Constitution, which says of the Supreme Court chief justice that 'he shall' work with other justices to make rules governing the administration of the courts.

'If I have your support, I assure you, 'she will,' ' Dalinais said.

In addition to being the most senior of the five Supreme Court justices, Dalianis will become the court's top administrator during a period of tight state budgets.

During her confirmation hearing, Dalianis said she was prepared to use technology and centralized services to make the court system more efficient.

'I know the challenges, and I stand with my colleagues who see this period in our history as an opportunity to take steps toward innovation and change that will produce a modern, efficient court system that will meet the demands of the future,' Dalianis said.

Dalianis said she would look at using e-filing and centralizing filing, calling and noticing systems. She spoke about 'virtual hearings' through computers - though she said that may not happen in her lifetime.

'Kids tell me about creating an avatar to have a hearing,' Dalianis said. 'It's not beyond a remote possibility.'

Russell Hilliard, an attorney with Upton & Hatfield, has worked with Dalianis on court and bar association committees and said she has been open-minded about new approaches to old problems. He said Dalianis worked on creating continuing education opportunities for lawyers and updating court rules 'to make them more reflective of modern time and technology.' She came up with ways to make the court process more understandable for litigants representing themselves.

One initiative Dalianis may soon oversee is an attempt to create a circuit court, based on legislation that will be introduced this legislative session. The legislation would unify the district, probate and marital courts in each region into a single court system, allowing courts to share judges, clerks and support staff.

Dalianis served on the Supreme Court's rules and legislation committees; superior court committees on guardians, marital master and alternative dispute resolution; and other Bar Association committees. She spearheaded the creation of the court's Office of Mediation and Arbitration, approved by the Legislature in July 2007.

Office of Mediation and Arbitration Director Karen Borgstrom said Dalianis united people from inside and outside the court system to create the office. The office brought existing mediation programs in the superior, probate and small-claims courts under one umbrella. Dalianis helped expand the program to include mediation in appellate court, in certain district court damage cases, in foreclosures and in a new business court. Pending legislation would allow for mediation before a lawsuit is filed.

'(Dalianis) has been a terrific support in all efforts related to the development and expansion of alternative dispute resolution,' Borgstrom said. 'She definitely does the big picture, and she's very available if we need her to be hands on.'

At the University of New Hampshire School of Law, Dalianis helped establish the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors program, which gives students hands-on professional training in place of the traditional bar exam.

'It was largely her brainchild,' said law school Dean John Hutson. 'She was really the lead role in the development of it, and since then she has been very actively involved in continuing it and helping to refine it.'

Dalianis was also involved in creating the family court system.

As a Supreme Court justice, Dalianis has a reputation as a vocal judge who frequently questions litigants.

'She asks good questions of both sides and plays her cards close to the vest,' said attorney and former state Supreme Court justice Chuck Douglas.

Dalianis graduated from Northeastern University in 1970 and received her law degree from Suffolk University School of Law in 1974.

Robert Lynn

Lynn, of Windham, has been a superior court judge since 1992 and was appointed chief justice of the superior court in 2004. He graduated from the University of New Haven in 1971 and received his law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1975. Lynn was a federal prosecutor before becoming a judge.

'Judge Lynn will make an excellent addition to our high court,' Lynch said. 'He has proven himself as an outstanding and highly regarded judge with the ability to handle the most complex and challenging cases.'

Lynn has overseen the superior court during a time when jury trials were reduced by a third because of budget cuts. The judicial branch is running with roughly 70 vacancies, which includes court staff and judges.

'Despite those challenges, the court system is up and running and functioning, so people get justice in the courts,' Lynn said during his confirmation hearing.

Lynn said his experience in superior court has made him respectful of judicial precedent.

'People who make contracts rely on what the courts previously said the law is,' Lynn said. 'To upset those expectations could create havoc.'

He said he believes the Supreme Court should decide issues very narrowly and take 'baby steps' rather than make 'broad pronouncements.'

Lynn has a background as a political conservative and a reputation as a tough judge. In 2001, Lynn was active in an attempt to amend the state Constitution to give the Legislature the power to make rules for the courts. During his confirmation hearing, former litigants criticized Lynn for what they described as harsh treatment. Supporters characterize him as hardworking and fair.

Gary Richardson, an attorney and state representative from Hopkinton, called Lynn a straight shooter who does not legislate from the bench.

'He respects the distinction between the things that are legislative prerogatives and things that are judicial prerogatives,' Richardson said. 'He follows the law strictly.'

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

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