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Friday, May 4, 2012

Proposal to limit terms for judges never makes it the state Senate

CONCORD – Bills that survived debate, revision and votes in the state House of Representatives now are moving through the Senate.

Not among them is an effort to place term limits on judges, which took a circuitous route through the legislative process before dying in late March.

CACR 11 sought to place five-year term limits on judges.

New Hampshire judges now are appointed by the governor, who draws from nominations presented by a Judiciary Selection Committee.

The governor’s appointments then are confirmed by the executive council.

New Hampshire joins Massachusetts and Rhode Island as the only states in which judges are appointed for life – or in New Hampshire up to a the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Some lawmakers, disgruntled by judicial rulings, sought to put a legislative restraint on judges. State Rep. Joshua Davenport, R-Newmarket, proposed CACR 11 as one of several pieces of legislation he sponsored to bring the judiciary under a check and balance of lawmakers, he said.

The House Judiciary Committee recommended the rejection of CACR 11 in November.

But lawmakers referred it back to the committee and also to the House Constitutional Review and Statutory Recodification Committee.

The review committee amended the bill, expanding judges’ terms from five to seven years.

The committee recommended passage of the amended bill. The House of Representative voted 218-120 to approve the bill. However, the vote fell short of the three-fifths votes of the full House membership (240 out of 400) needed for it to pass under the state Constitution. The bill was tabled 244-97.

Later, the House vote 209-144 to remove it from the table. The bill was debated, and a vote to kill it by deeming it “inexpedient to legislate” failed by 156-200.

The bill’s final death knell was sounded when the House rejected a measure to pass it by four votes, 172-176.

Its defeat was welcomed by proponents of keeping New Hampshire’s judges independent of legislative control.

“We take a great deal of pride in that,” said Laura Kiernan, spokesperson for the Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

New Hampshire’s current system guarantees that judges are free from political influence, she said.

“We feel our system guarantees justices the independence they need,” Kiernan said.

That system already has a safeguard, in that a “vigorous” process exists to remove judges for judicial misconduct, she said.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or