CONCORD, N.H. — Lawmakers voted Wednesday not to recommend impeachment or even a reprimand for one of three Supreme Court justices under fire for alleged ethics violations.
After two months of private interviews, public testimony and personal agony, the House Judiciary Committee began deciding what actions to take in the court scandal.
After 90 minutes of debate on definitions, constitutional powers and process, the committee voted 19-3 against recommending the impeachment of Justice Sherman Horton. A reprimand of Horton was later voted down 12-10.
The committee members' toughest task lay ahead: debating at least four articles of impeachment against Chief Justice David Brock.
The way that vote will go "depends on who you ask," Henry Mock, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday. "It's like a roller coaster."
They will also consider impeaching or reprimanding a third justice, John Broderick.
Committee members had appeared reluctant to recommend impeaching Horton and Broderick, though they have had harsh words for both. However, at least five committee members distributed drafts of impeachment articles against Brock.
The House is scheduled to vote on the committee's recommendations later this month.
Brock, the chief justice since 1986, is accused of intervening with a lower court judge in a case involving a state senator because the senator could help win pay raises for the bench — a charge Brock denies.
The committee will also decide if Brock placed the court's confidentiality above the need to report misconduct by other justices.
He is also implicated in former Justice Stephen Thayer's attempt to influence his own divorce case and accused of failing to promptly report other alleged incidents of misconduct by Thayer, who resigned when the scandal broke in March.
The House last impeached a Supreme Court justice, for a bad attendance record, 210 years ago.
The committee's work began in April, after Attorney General Philip McLaughlin said that while investigating Thayer he came across ethics violations by the rest of the court.
Most disturbing, McLaughlin said, was that Brock fostered an atmosphere in which judges who had conflicts of interest in cases were allowed to take part in discussions about them.
He said he knew immediately that Thayer acted inappropriately, and he believed he was reacting to a sensitive situation in the best possible way.
The committee had to decide whether Brock's judgment rises to the level of an impeachable offense, defined in the state Constitution as corruption, bribery, malpractice or maladministration of office.
Horton and Broderick also have been sharply criticized by lawmakers for their handling of Thayer's misconduct and their failure to completely disqualify themselves from cases in which they had conflicts.
Mock said the case has burdened lawmakers.
"Some are saying they're not sleeping," Mock said. "I can concur with that."
Justices are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Executive Council, an elected body that reviews nominations and contracts. Justices serve life terms but must retire at 70.