Remembering Joseph DiClerico
Brad Cook’s personal memories of a friend named Joe
Federal Judge Joseph A. DiClerico, who died on April 2, was remembered by colleagues and attorneys as a warm, fair, wise and good judge on both the state and federal courts where he served. His obituary recounted his fine upbringing, excellent education and accomplishments in school, and his wonderful family. However, to his friends and neighbors in New London, he was the funny and friendly “Joe” DiClerico, who added so much to their community and lives during his 81 years.
As his obituary stated, “convinced that his roots would not grow through pavement … he settled on the shores of Little Lake Sunapee.” It also alluded to the fact that he had vacationed with his family at Twin Lake Villa right up the street from where he settled, and that his wife Laurie’s family also vacationed there, probably bringing them together. He was one of the smart ones to go to live where his heart was, after being graduated from Yale Law School and Williams College.
After a short stint working for fellow New Londoner Jim Cleveland, at Cleveland, Waters and Bass in Concord, Joe DiClerico went to work for Attorney General Warren Rudman, and his successor, David Souter. While in that office, he became a part of New Hampshire history when he was assigned to represent the state in a case before the governor and Executive Council, when Gov. Meldrim Thomson fired his economic development director, Edward Bennett, after Bennett – commenting on one of the governor’s pet projects,
a paper mill proposed to go along the Connecticut River in Walpole – said, “I think it stinks.” Bennett appealed his firing, and DiClerico successfully persuaded the members to uphold the firing.
That representation brought DiClerico to Thomson’s attention and led to his appointment as an associate justice on the state Superior Court. Ultimately, he would become its chief justice. In 1992, then-U.S. Sen. Rudman arranged his nomination to be a judge of the federal court.
By this time, my family and I had purchased a home adjacent to Little Lake Sunapee, across the lake from the DiClericos, and I had gotten to know Joe in his capacity as a citizen of the town.
One day, I received a phone call from the judge, which was rare, in which he told me he had given my name to those federal investigators doing a background check on him during the nomination process. It seems they were interested in his membership in the Lake Association which looked out for protection of Little Sunapee, and a unique New London organization called The Boys Club of New London. He asked me to assure the investigators that they were not a “radical environmental group” or “sexist secret society,” respectively. When they called, I told the investigators exactly the opposite, at first, and they chuckled and told me they knew that they were innocent, to which I agreed. DiClerico was confirmed by the Senate and ultimately became chief judge of the U.S. District Court.
One day I received a phone call from the judge, and he told me he had given my name to those federal investigators doing a background check on him during the nomination process. It seems they were interested in his membership in the association which looked out for protection of Little Sunapee, and a unique New London organization called The Boys Club of New London.
He asked me to assure the investigators that they were not a “radical environmental group” or “sexist secret society,” respectively. When they called, I told the investigators exactly the opposite at first, and they chuckled and told me they knew that they were innocent, to which I agreed. DiClerico was confirmed by the Senate and ultimately became chief judge of the federal district court.
Later, during his tenure on the federal court, he recounted to me a story about an interview he had, when there was an opening on the First Circuit Court of Appeals, in Boston.
As one of the senior New Hampshire federal judges, he was being asked his views by a representative of the then-administration, I think it was George W. Bush’s. He told me in amazement that he had been asked if he would be willing to overturn rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, and that he had to explain that that is not how the system works! He did not get the appointment, but kept his integrity.
Early in his career, Joseph DiClerico was instrumental in the formation of the Little Sunapee Protective Association, along with James Cleveland and other residents on the lake, as he went from property to property, assessing the environmental damage being done by leaking septic systems, and then persuading offending owners to clean up their properties. His efforts led to the conversion of a Class C lake into a Class A lake.
Later in our association, having been invited to a party at the Cleveland residence, the DiClericos and we arrived at the same time. Cleveland’s daughter, the wonderful Cotton Cleveland, approached Judge DiClerico and me, put her arms around us both, and said, “Get dad a drink and ask him for stories.”
That resulted in one of the most memorable evenings ever, as the former congressman entertained us with political and town war stories, which became more colorful as the evening progressed.
New Hampshire is a lesser place due to the loss of Joseph A. DiClerico, but the bench, bar, as well as his friends and neighbors, are much richer because he was here.
Brad Cook is a Manchester attorney. The views expressed in this column are his own. He can be reached at email@example.com.