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David Brock Impeachment Trial: 2000

The Chief Justice Impeached, Testimony On Article I, Testimony On Article 11, Testimony On Article IvTestimony on Article Ill

Defendant: David Brock
Crime Charged: Four articles of impeachment
Chief Defense Lawyers: David Barry, Michael Madigan
Chief Prosecutor: Joseph Steinfield
Judges: The Senate of the State of New Hampshire
Place: Concord, New Hampshire
Date of Trial: September 18-October 10, 2000
Verdict: Not guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: This was the first impeachment trial of a chief justice of a state supreme court in U.S. history. The only other New Hampshire state official ever impeached was Supreme Court judge Woodbury Langdon, who in 1790 was described as "arbitrary and haughty" and was charged with failing to appear in court. He resigned rather than face a Senate trial. The impeachment process raised two questions: when is it appropriate for a legislature to intervene in court procedures, and when does such intervention constitute a violation of the separation of powers? As a result of this impeachment trial, the New Hampshire Supreme Court revised its Code of Judicial Conduct to set standards for determining the appearance of impropriety.

Early in 2000, the New Hampshire Supreme Court faced an unusual situation: It had to consider the appeal of a divorce decision by the ex-wife of one of its members, Stephen Thayer. In a court meeting on February 4, Chief Justice David Brock announced his appointments of substitute justices to stand in for those who had to recuse themselves because they knew both parties to the appeal. Justice Thayer objected strenuously to one of the appointments.

Court Clerk Howard Zibel, knowing it was a violation of court procedures for a judge to discuss a case involving a fellow judge when the fellow judge was present, reported the incident in a memo to state attorney general Philip McLaughlin. The resulting investigation led to Thayer's resignation from the bench in March and to McLaughlin's alleging to the state's House Judiciary Committee that other violations of ethics had been committed by members of the court.

Testimony on Article Ill

On the charge that Brock routinely permitted judges to comment on cases from which they were disqualified, retired Supreme Court Justice William Johnson was the key witness. He admitted himself using suggestions from disqualified judges when writing his opinions, defending the long-standing practice and countering a judicial ethics expert who criticized it.

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