NH Senate acquits Brock '58

by Julia Levy | 10/11/00 5:00am

New Hampshire's Senate decided overwhelmingly yesterday to acquit state Supreme Court Justice David Brock, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1958.

After yesterday's 15-7 vote in favor of acquitting Brock, the 64-year-old chief justice expressed happiness that the long case had finally reached its close.

"It is with the deepest gratitude that I thank all of you who have given your support to us," he said in a news conference.

Dartmouth government professor Lynn Mather called the Senate trial and its final decision fair, saying it was less partisan and more fact-based than the House trial.

"It was a much more partisan vote in the House when they passed impeachment," she said. "There were significantly more Republicans in favor of impeachment."

The biggest difference between the Senate impeachment trial and the House trial that preceded it is that while the House trial was completely one sided, the Senate trial allowed Brock to call defense witnesses on his behalf.

Mather said it became clear that the Senate proceedings were going to be more favorable towards Brock than the House's trial when the Senate decided in pre-trial hearings to require a two-thirds vote -- or 15 senators -- to convict Brock. Senators based their decision not to use a simple majority on the high stakes of the potential impeachment.

Although Brock told the public yesterday that he plans to return to the Supreme Court when it reconvenes next month, it is unclear whether this will actually happen, since he remains under review by the Court's disciplinary committee.

Another factor that may bar Brock from reclaiming his office is the possible continued investigation by state Attorney General Philip McLaughlin's office.

However, Mather said she thinks Brock should be allowed to reassume his position as Chief Justice.

"He's been an excellent judge," she said, noting that he has a strong national reputation and has served on three prominent national judicial organizations that work to improve state courts.

Mather said all of the publicity surrounding the House and Senate hearings might cause some voters to question Brock's credibility, but it also might make the chief justice "seem more human" to certain citizens.

"I think it cuts both ways," Mather said.

Before this three-week trial started in mid-September, no Supreme Court justice in New Hampshire had ever faced impeachment by the Senate. Only one other justice had been tried for impeachment in the state House of Representatives, and that trial was in 1790.

Brock's impeachment trial was based on charges that he had lied to House investigators during his trial there, made an improper call to a lower-court judge in a 1987 case and solicited input from former Associate Justice Stephen Thayer about Thayer's own divorce case.

Brock also was accused of allowing judges to lend input on cases from which they were disqualified for conflicts of interest.

Mather noted that even before the New Hampshire Supreme Court scandal broke last spring, there were bills pending in the legislature that called for his removal from office. These followed his authorship of the controversial Claremont ruling -- which pertained to the method the state uses to finance its public schools.

"They were primed for this judicial reform," Mather said. "The nature of the court system and the selection of judges comes into the public spotlight more when the public doesn't like the court's decisions."

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