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New Hampshire Senate acquits chief justice

Brock
Brock  

From staff and wire reports

CONCORD, New Hampshire -- The New Hampshire Senate voted Tuesday to acquit state Supreme Court Chief Justice David Brock on all four counts in his impeachment trial.

Brock had been charged with lying to House investigators, giving then-Justice Steven Thayer inside information about Thayer's own divorce case, making an improper call to a lower court judge about a case, and routinely allowing justices to comment on cases from which they were disqualified.

Fifteen votes, two-thirds of the 22 participating senators, were needed for a conviction. None of the four articles received more than five votes.

The votes came after a three-week trial. In five hours of statements followed by a brief debate, state senators said either the charges against Brock were not serious enough to warrant impeachment or that the evidence presented at trial was not persuasive.

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"For us to convict, there must be serious misconduct," said Sen. Burt Cohen, a Democrat from New Castle. "Poor judgment is not enough."

Brock, 64, smiled and hugged his tearful wife at the end of the historic trial, the first of its kind in state history.

"It is with the deepest gratitude that I thank all of you who have given your support to us," Brock said at a brief news conference moments after the final vote.

The case began early this year when then-Justice Stephen Thayer's ex-wife appealed the couple's divorce to the Supreme Court. None of Thayer's colleagues could hear the appeal, but Brock had to appoint substitute judges.

When he announced two of his choices at a February 4 court meeting, Thayer strenuously objected to one. Brock left the meeting and tried to put the selection on hold.

Deeply troubled by the incident, court Clerk Howard Zibel decided he was legally obligated to report both men because it is a violation of court procedures for a judge to speak about a case involving a fellow judge with the fellow judge present.

An investigation by Attorney General Philip McLaughlin led to Thayer's resignation in March and the House impeachment inquiry.

Sen. Mary Brown was part of the minority that either found Brock not credible or felt his conduct was too serious to overlook. Brown said she did not believe Brock when he denied making a call to a lower-court judge more than a decade ago to influence a politically sensitive case.

"I thought it was overwhelmingly obvious that he did," she said.

The 1987 case was a business dispute between a company owned by Senate majority leader Edward Dupont and another fuel company. Investigators say Brock called a lower-court colleague to remind him that Dupont could help pass a bill raising judges' salaries.

Last week, Brock acknowledged making errors and giving answers that were less than the full truth, but he denied lying. He said confusing questions led him to misspeak once.

Sen. Katie Wheeler said she agreed. Brock may have been caught off-guard or unprepared, she said, but "that's not testifying falsely with intent to mislead."

The defense portrayed Thayer as vindictive and untrustworthy. It accused him of not reporting a loan, backdating a financial disclosure form and misrepresenting his experience on an application to become a federal judge.

But Thayer reminded the Senate he could be charged with perjury if he lied.

"You may question if I'm vindictive, but no one has ever accused me of being stupid," he said.

Brock's future as head of the Supreme Court is uncertain. Though he has said repeatedly he wants to return to work, his conduct remains under review by the court's disciplinary committee.

Furthermore, McLaughlin's office has declined to say if its investigation of the court is closed.

The court changed its flawed policy on when judges should excuse themselves from cases after it became public this spring. Under the new policy, Brock probably would have to remove himself from cases involving the judges and lawyers who testified at his trial. That would limit the appeals he could hear.

Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.



RELATED STORIES:
Word of one judge versus another in N.H. impeachment trial
September 26, 2000
Historic impeachment trial begins in New Hampshire
September 18, 2000
New Hampshire chief justice should be impeached, committee says
July 6, 2000
New Hampshire committee recommends impeachment of chief justice
July 6, 2000
House Judiciary Committee considers releasing Clinton videotape
September 16, 1998

RELATED SITES:
New Hampshire Supreme Court
  • Justices and Clerks
New Hampshire State Government
  • NH Constitution, Articles 72 - 81: Judicial Power


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