In the year 2000, Howard Zibel, then the Clerk of the NH Supreme Court, reported some improprieties involving Supreme Court Justices Stephen Thayer and David A Brock involving a hearing on Thayer's divorce. In the end, Thayer resigned, Brock survived an impeachment trial, the other justices were investigated and not impeached, and in general the state got a detailed look at the inner workings of its Supreme Court and several other allegations of misconduct.
Some of the fallout of the investigations were (and will be) several pieces of legislation to make the court system more accountable. One was a bill to replace the existing Judicial Conduct Committee, which is part of the Supreme Court, with a new Judicial Conduct Commission which will be independent of all three branches of state government. This was contained in SB 197 and resulted in adding RSA 494 to State law.
The JCC-II organized themselves in 2001 and is now accepting complaints. Their home page says:
The Judicial Conduct Commission was established by the Legislature under Chapter 267 of the Laws of 2001 (Senate Bill 197) to hear complaints of judicial misconduct and recommend or impose discipline where appropriate. The eleven-member commission is comprised of a majority of lay people and is totally independent of other branches of government.
The JCC-II has WWW space within the state government, but separate from the three branches and other entities given top billing in the state hierarchy. Early on it was well advertised, but once dropped their site was very hard to find. When you write your complaint to file with the JCC-II, match particular actions by the judge with applicable sections of the JCC-II's Code of Judicial Conduct. That will save the committee quite a bit of time in their review and formulation of charges.
JCC-I and JCC-II have slightly different Codes of Conduct. The differences are not material as far as DCYF cases go.
It will be interesting to see how the two JCCs investigate identical complaints. Well - would have been. The JCC-II decided only to accept cases that were not filed with the JCC-I.
In 2003, RSA 494-A:1 was amended to provide that: "All complaints made against judges . . . and clerks . . . shall be directed to the [Judicial Conduct C]ommission." This was a legislative attempt to get the JCC-I to do the right thing and disband. However, by attempting to take a power away from the courts, this provided an opening for a counter-attack by the JCC-I
In 2004, the JCC-I petitioned the NH Supreme Court seeking to have the law that established the JCC-II ruled unconstitutional. The court did so in a decision that made no mention of the report the court commissioned, and concluded
the power to regulate the conduct of judges, including the authority to take disciplinary action short of removal, is a judicial power.and the next day the JCC-II deleted all files on its web site except for an "out of business" page. I managed to save a few things of interest from caches and web.archive.org.
Not so fast! The site was taken down in error. shall we say, and has been restored. After spending a lot of last night saving flotsam, I don't have time right now to clean up the following. I will soon.
Contact Ric Werme or return to his home page.
Written 2002 Jan 6, last updated 2004 June 16.