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Judge Samaha resigns from the court

August 24, 2011
LITTLETON - Long-time Judge Stephen Samaha, who serves the district courts in Berlin, Lancaster and Plymouth, resigned his position recently because new rules that prevent justices and members of their law firm from practicing in courts for which they serve. As a part-time judge, Samaha had to make a choice between practicing law or being a judge. He served on the bench for 29 years.

Being a judge was both "interesting and humbling" Samaha said during an interview in his law office, Samaha and Russell, last week. The consolidation and cutbacks in the judicial system have caused great pressure on the administration of justice, he said. The North Country, especially he said, has been hit hard by this because people must drive further and the region is plagued with tough economic times. "I don't think the public will be made to suffer from these cuts," he added. He predicts the Colebrook court will eventually be closed. Samaha also pointed out that more caseloads and the increase in new laws and tougher enforcement adds to the pressure. "Everything gets pushed back." he said.

Samaha has seen a lot of changes in nearly three decades of service.

"Most people," he said, "end up in court (because) abuse of alcohol, their down on their luck and are not hard-core criminals."

In his career he said a "few dozen (from) mostly outside the area" that fit that category. He's also witnessed the "breakdown of family" that once provided the discipline that now falls on the shoulders of police, school and the court.

Samaha remembers the day when municipalities had their own courts, some with lay (non-lawyer) judges and it seems that part-time judges may be eliminated by the new rules. Being a part-time judge, he said, enriched his life and broadened his perspective by "seeing the other side of litigation." He witnessed a mix of grinding poverty and basic decency regularly entangle people. "As a judge, I'd see people I normally wouldn't run into in my law practice," he said, "It's a humbling thing to see how bad people have it especially in the North Country, where there are extremely honest people, hard working, but poor."

Samaha has justice in his blood. His father was the clerk of Grafton County and later Rockingham County. He grew up in Woodsville and after graduating from Woodsville High School, he applied for and received a somewhat "undiscovered" scholarship that sends local students to Dartmouth College. The Bartlett scholarship was established long ago for Haverhill high school graduates who went to Dartmouth and promise not to smoke cigarettes. After college, he went to Boston University Law School and then joined a large Manchester firm. Then came the pull to return home to the North Country, so in 1973 Samaha joined the Littleton firm that included Francis Moulton and Peter Cyr.

It was through Cyr, who was a district and later a Superior Court justice, that Samaha became a judge, first as special justice covering for Cyr when he was away. He was appointed by Governor Hugh Gallen to be a Special District Judge in 1982 and to the same position in Littleton court by Governor John Sununu in 1984. A year later, he resigned both positions and was moved up to the position of District Court Justice in Lincoln. When the Lincoln court was merged with Plymouth, Samaha moved to the Plymouth court. This year, the Circuit Court was established and Samaha presided in three courts, Berlin, Lancaster and Plymouth.

Samaha said he'll miss being a judge. He recalled some wise advice from his old law partner, Judge Moulton, that may be especially timely as court's become overburden. "If you have a good case try it fast," Moulton advised, "and if you have s bad case try it faster." Video clips of this interview are available on-line at www.WhiteMtNews.com.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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