Supreme Court Chief Justice David Brock has held the post since 1986.

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Supreme Court Chief Justice David Brock – the first judge in New Hampshire history to undergo an impeachment trial and author of landmark school funding decisions – is retiring at the end of the year.

“The time is right. The Supreme Court and the Judicial Branch are strong,” Brock wrote Monday in a letter addressed to “The Citizens of New Hampshire.”

Brock, 67, has been eligible to retire for two years and faced mandatory retirement at age 70. He said compelling personal and family considerations prompted his decision. He has been chief justice since 1986 and a justice since 1978.

Gov. Craig Benson thanked Brock for his service and wished “him the best as he enters retirement.”

Benson gave no indication Monday if he will seek outside guidance in selecting a replacement as some governors have done.

The court said a recent law makes the senior associate justice – John Broderick – chief justice for five years, after which the job passes to the justice next in line in seniority.

However, the governor’s office said Monday night Benson is reviewing that law and legislation coming next year that would give him and the Executive Council the right to name the chief justice.

That would call into question whether Broderick’s elevation was guaranteed.

After Brock’s departure, Broderick will be the only judge on the court who participated in its historic 1993 and 1997 school funding decisions, but legal observers say it is unlikely Brock’s replacement will change the court’s direction dramatically.

“I don’t think one nominee is going to change the tone of that court,” said Franklin Pierce Law Professor Richard Hesse.

Brock authored more than 800 opinions. He presided over a court that granted protections to criminal defendants that goes beyond the federal Constitution.

But he will be remembered for writing two key school funding decisions which held not only that all New Hampshire schoolchildren have a constitutional right to an education but also one that is adequately funded by the state.

The court said the state could not use the old property tax system to fund schools because rates varied widely from town to town.

Brock also joined with Broderick in 2001 in a vigorous dissent from the court’s majority opinion that upheld a subsequently adopted statewide property tax to pay for schools.

“I think his name will always be attached to (those rulings),” said Franklin Pierce Law Professor Albert Scherr.

“The decisions he authored – Claremont I and II – were monumental (and) took a lot of courage,” said Scott Johnson, a lawyer for Claremont and four other towns that sued to force the sweeping changes. “He changed the debate.”

After the rulings, angry conservatives attacked Brock and the court, but the court – under his leadership – refused to back down and forced the Legislature to fundamentally change how schools are funded.

“The legacy of his court in many ways is it is not a court that is moved by political persuasion,” said Scherr.

In 1999, lawmakers enacted a new aid system largely funded by a statewide property tax. This year, they passed a law making schools accountable for student performance.

Many believe the court decisions contributed to the House impeaching Brock in 2000.

Brock was accused of improperly calling a lower-court judge about a politically sensitive case in 1987; soliciting then-Justice Stephen Thayer’s comments about the judges selected to hear Thayer’s own divorce; lying to House investigators; and routinely allowing justices to comment on cases from which they were disqualified.

The Senate acquitted him following his trial.

The court subsequently established a formal procedure for judges to disqualify themselves.

House Judiciary Chairman Henry Mock, who presided over the House’s impeachment hearing, said the trial was “worth every dollar it cost the state” because it forced the court to be more open.

“Who would’ve imagined five years ago that the Supreme Court would go to Plymouth College and have a hearing,” said Mock, R-Jackson.

“They have reached out. He’s got to be credited with it. He’s the boss. Just as he was criticized for a failed recusal policy, he’s got to be credited with this.”

Nevertheless, Mock said that though he has no ill will toward anyone, he will always be convinced “the House had it right, that he should have been fired. The Senate didn’t see it that way. That’s the way it works.”

In his testimony, Brock admitted to some accusations but insisted they were errors in judgment or misstatements – not intentional, impeachable acts.

Brock’s lawyers contended that nothing he did was serious enough to warrant conviction. They say the constitutional grounds for impeachment – bribery, corruption, malpractice and maladministration – require evil intent or personal gain as a motive.

The last time a New Hampshire Supreme Court justice was impeached was in 1790. That judge, Woodbury Langdon, resigned before his Senate trial.

Since his acquittal, Brock has worked to repair the court’s strained relationship with the Legislature. Both sides point to a negotiated budget agreement last summer as an example of their improved relations.

Russell Hilliard, who testified at Brock’s trial and now is president of the New Hampshire Bar Association, said people should remember Brock for more than the impeachment.

“I have the highest regard for him. I always did and I still do. A lot of people will not forget the trying times he went through in 2000, but I hope they recall the things he did do to modernize the court system,” said Hilliard.

Brock was appointed U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire by President Nixon in 1969 and named to the Superior Court by Gov. Meldrim Thomson in 1976. Thomson nominated Brock to the Supreme Court as an associate justice and Gov. John Sununu named Brock to be chief justice.

AP-ES-12-01-03 1746EST

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