State's courts rate poorly, survey of lawyers shows

CONCORD – Lawyers around the state gave the state’s courts a barely passing grade, rating the system 5-1/2 on a scale of 1 to 10, the New Hampshire Bar News reports.

The state Bar Association, a professional association that all lawyers are required to contribute, surveyed members asking them to rate the state courts on a simple scale, and comment on their concerns.

“Bar members responding to a recent e-mail survey said they are extremely concerned about the functioning of the state courts,” according to an article in this month’s Bar News.

The survey asked lawyers to rate the state’s court system “in serving the needs of your clients and the public” on a scale of 1 to 10, the Bar News reports.

Cheshire County had the lowest ratings, with an average of 3.8, while Grafton County rated highest at 6.4. Hillsborough South in Nashua rated 5.7, topping the northern division (4.9).

More than 550 lawyers (just over 10 percent) responded to the survey, the Bar News reports. Their top concerns included delays in processing motions and orders and inefficient scheduling. Lawyers tended to blame staffing levels and absence of computerized systems for the problems, and some “lauded the diligence of court personnel working in difficult circumstances,” the article states.

Though the survey results were reported by county, the survey was intended to cover all the courts, spokesman Dan Wise said. The survey was meant as a “quick snapshot,” and was not performed using scientific survey methods, such as weighting to take into account the likelihood that lawyers who had no complaints would be less likely to respond.

The state’s Superior and Probate Courts are organized by county, while district courts are regional. Superior courts handle lawsuits, criminal cases and other legal disputes. District courts handle small claims, misdemeanors and restraining orders.

The survey was done at the request of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, who mentioned it during a recent hearing before the House Finance Committee.

“We’re under six on a 10-point scale,” Broderick said. “In one county, 55 percent of the lawyers gave the court system a three or less. That’s embarrassing.”

The article quotes one lawyer noting that delays mostly hurt people who already have been harmed in some way.

“Those who benefit from the status quo love a clogged, inefficient judicial branch,” the lawyer stated.