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Thayer (NHSCT, 2000)

Thayer (NHSCT, 2000)

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Published by: Chris Buck on Dec 01, 2010
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NOTICE: This opinion is subject to motions for rehearing under Rule 22 as well as formalrevision before publication in the New Hampshire Reports. Readers are requested to notifythe Clerk/Reporter, Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Supreme Court Building,Concord, New Hampshire 03301, of any errors in order that corrections may be madebefore the opinion goes to press. Opinions are available on the Internet by 9:00 a.m. on themorning of their release. The direct address of the court's home page is:http://www.state.nh.us./courts/supreme.htm.THE SUPREME COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE__________________________
OriginalJD-2000-001PETITION OF W. STEPHEN THAYER, IIIAugust 15, 2000Kenna, Johnston & Sharkey, P.A., of Manchester (Kevin E. Sharkey on the brief and orally), forW. Stephen Thayer, III.Nelson, Kinder, Mosseau & Saturley, P.C., of Manchester (William C. Saturley and Christine M.Renda on the brief, and Mr. Saturley orally), for the committee on judicial conduct.PER CURIAM. The petitioner, W. Stephen Thayer, III, seeks a writ of prohibition that would barthe New Hampshire Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Conduct (JCC) from continuing toconsider allegations of judicial misconduct said to have been committed by him during his tenureas an associate justice of the New Hampshire supreme court. We decline to issue the writ.The JCC opened an investigation into Mr. Thayer's conduct as a member of the supreme court inresponse to a June 1999 letter from Mr. Thayer. On March 31, 2000, while the JCC investigationwas still underway, then Justice Thayer submitted his resignation. This petition followed.The standards governing the issuance of a writ of prohibition are well established.Prohibition is proper "to prevent a tribunal possessing judicial orquasi-judicial powers from exercising jurisdiction over matters notwithin its cognizance or exceeding its jurisdiction in matters of which it has cognizance." 63C Am. Jur. 2d Prohibition § 1, at 6(1997). "Prohibition is an extraordinary remedy which, although
 
within the discretion of this court, is used with caution andforbearance and only when the right to relief is clear." State v.Superior Ct., 116 N.H. 1, 2, 350 A.2d 626, 627 (1976); seeManchester Education Ass'n v. Superior Court, 109 N.H. 513, 514,257 A.2d 23, 24 (1969).Petition of Mone, 143 N.H. 128, 132, 719 A.2d 626, 630 (1998).Mr. Thayer argues that upon his resignation, the JCC lost its jurisdiction to investigate hisconduct as a judge. He bases his argument on Supreme Court Rules 39 and 40, case law fromother jurisdictions, and the mootness doctrine.The JCC objects, contending that Justice Thayer's resignation did not divest the JCC of its jurisdiction to continue its investigation of conduct said to have occurred while the petitioner wasstill a member of the supreme court. The JCC bases its position on the purposes for which therules of judicial conduct were created, a different reading of the supreme court rules, case lawfrom other jurisdictions, and an assertion that its investigation is not moot. We agree with theJCC position.The JCC is a committee of the supreme court, established pursuant to constitutional and statutoryauthority. Sup. Ct. R. 39(1). See N.H. Const. pt. II, art. 73-a; RSA 490:4 (1997); see also, In reMussman, 112 N.H. 99, 101, 289 A.2d 403, 405 (1972) (explaining that RSA 490:4 "hasgenerally been recognized as confirming the common-law powers of this court [to exercisegeneral superintendence of the State's courts] from its beginning") (citation omitted). Contrary tothe position maintained by the petitioner, the JCC is not strictly an administrative agency, andthe rules pertaining to grants of authority to administrative agencies in general are less appositeto the issues raised in this case.In Opinion of the Justices (Judicial Salary Suspension), 140 N.H. 297, 300, 666 A.2d 523, 525(1995), the court observed:The superintending control of the supreme court is comprehensive.State ex rel. Brown v. Knowlton, 102 N.H. 221, 223, 152 A.2d624, 625 (1959). Accordingly, this court has the responsibility toprotect and preserve the judicial system. We have the inherentauthority to take whatever action is necessary to effectuate thisresponsibility.See also Supreme Court Rule 38, Canon 1:An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justicein our society. A judge should participate in establishing,maintaining, and enforcing, and should himself observe, highstandards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved. The provisions of this Code should beconstrued and applied to further that objective without any
 
limitation upon the supreme court in the exercise of its powers of general superintendence, whether constitutional, statutory orinherent, in areas not delineated in the Code.(Emphasis added). As the petitioner has acknowledged, even if we were to conclude thatSupreme Court Rules 39 and 40 do not authorize the JCC to continue an investigation of a judgewho has resigned, the supreme court would retain the constitutional, statutory, and inherentpower to authorize such an investigation.The New Hampshire Constitution "provides in emphatic terms that `[i]t is the right of everycitizen to be tried by judges as impartial as the lot of humanity will admit,' and therefore judges`should hold their offices so long as they behave well.'" In re Mussman, 112 N.H. at 102, 289A.2d at 405 (quoting N.H. Const. pt. I, art. 35). Before it adopted the Code of Judicial Conduct in1973, see Snow's Case, 140 N.H. 618, 621, 674 A.2d 573, 575 (1996), or established the JCC in1979, the supreme court explained that "[i]f the judiciary had no means by which thisconstitutional provision could be implemented in practice as well as theory, the average citizenwould wonder whether he was receiving the type of impartial justice that the constitutionrequires," In re Mussman, 112 N.H. at 102-03, 289 A.2d at 405 (emphasis added). Thus,fostering public confidence in the judiciary, as well as maintaining its integrity, have long beenfundamental purposes of New Hampshire's system of judicial discipline. See also In reMussman, 113 N.H. 54, 57, 302 A.2d 822, 824 (1973) ("maintenance of confidence in the courtsis no less important" than "maintenance of public confidence in the bar as a whole").The supreme court has recently stated that "[t]he power to discipline judges is exercised for theprotection of the public from further acts of misconduct and to protect the integrity of the judiciary." Snow's Case, 140 N.H. at 621, 674 A.2d at 575 (citing Flint's Case, 133 N.H. 685,688, 582 A.2d 291, 293 (1990)). A similar concern with protecting the public is reflected in thecase law of many of our sister states, see, e.g., Matter of Johnstone, No. S-8387, slip op. at 15(Alaska 2000) ("we have held that a primary purpose of judicial discipline in Alaska is to protectthe public rather than to punish the judge"). The American Bar Association has also espoused asimilar position. See ABA Standards Relating to Judicial Discipline and Disability Retirement(Tentative Draft, 1977) ("the major purpose of judicial discipline is not to punish judges, but toprotect the public, preserve the integrity of the judicial process, maintain public confidence in the judiciary, and create a greater awareness of proper judicial behavior on the part of judgesthemselves").The integrity of the judicial system is fostered not just by the removal or suspension of a judgewho has violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, but also by the investigative process of the JCC,the JCC's ability "to hold a public hearing on a statement of formal charges," Sup. Ct. R.39(9)(g), and the availability of sanctions other than removal from office, such as public censure,see Snow's Case, 140 N.H. at 628, 674 A.2d at 579-80 (imposing sanctions which included: (1)public censure; and (2) a six-month suspension with reinstatement conditioned upon inter aliacompletion of a course on judicial ethics.The JCC's power to investigate and hold hearings, and the supreme court's power to censure,protect the public because "[w]ithout judges who are perceived and trusted by members of the

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