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Vote nears to impeach chief justice of N.H. court

SHARE Vote nears to impeach chief justice of N.H. court

CONCORD, N.H. — The chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court is one step closer to losing his job in the face of alleged ethics violations.

After a daylong debate, the House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to impeach David Brock, while sparing two other justices from any punishment.

The panel endorsed three articles of impeachment alleging Brock lied under oath, called a lower-court judge about a case involving a powerful state senator and solicited comments from a fellow justice about that judge's divorce case.

The full House will vote next week on whether to accept the recommendations and send the matter to the Senate for trial.

Seventeen of the 22 committee members found evidence that Brock perjured himself before the committee.

"We witnessed to our disapproval and absolute utter dismay the fact that the chief justice was not being scrupulously honest with us," Rep. Phyllis Woods said.

The committee then voted 14-8 to recommend Brock's impeachment for telephoning a lower court judge in 1987 to remind him that a state senator involved in a business dispute could help the court pass legislation, including a pay raise. Brock has denied making the call; the impeachment article faults him for calling and not telling his colleagues about it.

"There seems to be one kind of justice for those who can get to the court and one for the rest of us," Rep. Benjamin DePecol said. "Using power to help your friends is not good public policy."

The third impeachment article accuses Brock of soliciting comments in February from then-Justice Stephen Thayer about matters involving Thayer's divorce case.

The lawmakers also recommended Brock be given full retirement benefits if he resigns before a Senate trial.

Brock's lawyer, David Barry, said the committee lowered the threshold for impeachment too far.

"An impeachment of the chief justice based on the evidence found will stand out as a historical aberration," Barry said. "It's been a frustrating day."

Some committee members said there was no evidence Brock committed any impeachable offenses, which the state Constitution defines as "bribery, corruption, malpractice or maladministration."

"I cannot find clear and convincing evidence of wrongdoing so egregious to merit this awful penalty," said Rep. Nancy Ford.

The committee recommended earlier Wednesday that two other Supreme Court justices accused of ethics violations, Sherman Horton and John Broderick, be neither impeached nor reprimanded.

The committee began investigating in April, after Attorney General Philip McLaughlin accused Thayer of trying to influence his own divorce. While investigating Thayer, McLaughlin came across alleged ethics violations by the rest of the court.

In testimony before the committee last month, Brock apologized for poor judgment but said he meant no harm. He said he knew immediately that Thayer, who resigned over the allegations, had acted inappropriately, and he believed he was reacting to a sensitive situation in the best way.

Horton and Broderick also were accused of not immediately blowing the whistle on Thayer. Lawmakers said they were not pleased with the pair, but said months of publicity had damaged their reputations enough. They said they trusted Broderick to work to reform the court, and noted that Horton is nearing retirement.

"If you don't think John Broderick — and Justice Horton as well — will always be known as the judge who almost got impeached, you and I don't live in the same world," Rep. Cynthia Dokmo said.

Justices are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Executive Council, an elected body that reviews nominations and contracts. Justices serve until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.

The last time a New Hampshire Supreme Court justice was impeached was in 1790. That judge, Woodbury Langdon, described as "arbitrary and haughty," resigned before his Senate trial.

On the Net: Supreme Court: www.state.nh.us/courts/supreme.htm

Judiciary Committee Investigation: www.state.nh.us/gencourt/ngencourt.html