Henry Mock looks back on his legislative life

A former high school biology teacher and chief conservation officer in the Fish and Game Department, Henry P. Mock has represented the Mt. Washington Valley town of Jackson in the New Hampshire Legislature for the past 12 years, six of them as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The 67-year-old Mock, who has decided not to run for another term, chaired the committee’s hearings on the impeachment of Chief Justice David Brock in the summer of 2000 and has been involved in legislative attempts at judicial reform ever since. In an interview with the New Hampshire Business Review, he looked back on the impeachment and other issues and events that have occurred during his tenure in the “People’s Court,” the General Court of New Hampshire.

Q: As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment hearings, you came probably as close as a state rep gets to being a household name in New Hampshire. Were your friends and neighbors impressed by that?

A. Oh, I would hear of it, of course. “Saw you on TV again today. We’re getting sick of you.” That kind of stuff from my friends. Oh, sure, and some of that went across the country, maybe not on video, but in print. I had a friend call from San Francisco, because he’d read in the San Francisco paper about the impeachment. That was a huge summer.

Q: Did you feel like, “Whoa! I didn’t plan on spending my whole summer doing this. This is a hot potato, this is more than I bargained for”?

A: That is for sure. But I can tell you I went into that thing with an open mind. I didn’t have anyone convicted at all. We took the attorney general’s report and went from there.

Q. There are some who believe to this day that this whole impeachment thing was the House paying back the chief justice for the Claremont school-funding decision.

A: Absolutely not. The one thing my committee never did was criticize (the justices’) decision-making. It was their behavior we were looking at. What really pushed the inquiry forward was the secrecy that surrounded the court. The court was a sealed entity. No one was ever allowed to know what was going on in the court. That was what was really pushing this. I would say Claremont had nothing to do with it.

Q: You found out about the phone call (from Brock) to Judge (Douglas) Gray in the Holmes Gas case and then you learned that the matter had been before the Supreme Court in 1988 and they had admonished the chief justice. And the public never knew about it.

A: That was the secrecy that was going on. And for years, the recusal policy, we discovered, was absolutely flawed, totally flawed. No one has any idea how many judges recused themselves on their case and then participated in the conferences. So, you know, I’ll tell you the impeachment cost the taxpayers of this state a million dollars. And they got their money’s worth.

Q: What was your reaction when you heard Chief Justice Brock and others say that this recusal policy was followed when Justice Souter was on the court and when Frank Kenison was chief justice? Did that cut any ice with you?

A: Not at all. If anything, it may have solidified our resolve when we heard that kind of stuff.

Q: There was just recently a ruling by the state Supreme Court that an act of the Legislature requiring the New Hampshire Bar to hold a referendum on the unified bar was unconstitutional. The court said the separation of powers in the New Hampshire Constitution means that the court alone regulates the legal profession. Was that an accurate understanding, do you think, of the separation of powers?

A: Let me tell you something. On the ballot two years ago, there was a constitutional question: Do you wish to amend 73-A, Part II in the Constitution to give the Legislature — only it used the term, “General Court” — authority to get involved in administration, rules of evidence, etc. in the judiciary? And it got 63.7 percent of the total vote. And it needed 66 2/3 percent, as you know, to amend the Constitution.

That same amendment is on this year’s ballot. It will be Constitutional Question 1. It’s the only one on the ballot. What we did this time was change the term “General Court” to “Legislature.” And the reason we did that was that we talked to many, many voters, as I did right here in the valley, and when they read this and saw “and the General Court shall have the final say …” They said “Oh, my God, it’s the judges again!” They didn’t know — and I have said this many times — that the General Court is the highest court in the state of New Hampshire.

Q: When you get into a dispute over the jurisdiction of the court versus the Legislature and the court decides it, it seems to me that violates one of basic principles of jurisprudence, in that you shouldn’t decide your own case, because you’re an interested party.

A: Is that court telling the people of this state that the Legislature can regulate doctors, it can regulate massage parlors, tattoo parlors, barbers, plumbers, electricians? It can regulate everyone in the state, every profession in the state, but don’t you even think of going near the law profession. Why? How come? It doesn’t make sense.

So if there was ever a reason — if anyone needs a reason — to vote “yes” on Constitutional Question No. 1, they handed it to them — on a platter.

Q: When the House was debating a bill this year on so-called gay marriage, you said, “I don’t want this issue decided on Noble Drive.” Do you think the Supreme Court justices try to decide too much, that they assume the role of legislators in some cases?

A: No, I don’t. I believe they only deal with issues that are presented to them.

Q: When they ruled in Claremont I and II that the legislators’ duty to “cherish” literature and the arts means the Legislature has the responsibility to fund them, was that overreaching? Was that usurping?

A: Oh sure it was. How anyone can take the Constitution, written in 1784, when “cherish” was a word that was used a lot – “cherish” this and “cherish” that. It even talks about religion in there, the academies and different things. So they were overreaching in the Claremont decision, of course they were. We should cherish education? Of course, we should cherish education. That doesn’t say we’re to pay for education … Of course its silly. They turned a seven letter word — “cherish” — into a five-letter word — “money.”

Q: Do you think there are times when the Legislature or the executive branch has to say to the court something similar to what Andrew Jackson once said about the U.S. Supreme Court: “Justice Marshall made his decision; let Justice Marshall enforce it”?

A: No, I don’t believe in revolution. I believe in going through the process. I’m not radical in that sense. That’s our system.

Q: Why did you decide to retire now?

A: It’s in this (retirement) speech. It’s right there. It says, “Through my lifetime, I have carried with me the philosophy of leaving my careers at the pinnacle of productivity. I have reached that summit here and only I would know it. Only I am in a position to make that judgement … I wish to leave while I am still excited and interested in the process of legislation, while I am still engaged, active and productive.

“I want to leave while I am still vital, and not a vital statistic.”

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