Impeachment Showdown Nears for NH's Top Justice

By Jerry Miller | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - A well-known Washington lawyer, best known for defending Democrats in high places with serious legal problems, will be a key prosecutor, should the New Hampshire State Senate hold an impeachment trial of State Supreme Court Chief Justice David Brock. Conservatives, however, fear that Robert F. Bauer's partisan loyalties will affect the way he does his job.

Three articles of impeachment were approved last week by the House Judiciary Committee. Brock is charged with perjury and with conducting illegal communications with Steven Thayer, also a high court justice at the time, concerning the makeup of a special panel to hear Thayer's divorce case.

Bauer will be part of the prosecution team assembled by former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Bauer is well-known as a Democratic activist, who worked closely with US Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle in last year's impeachment trial of President Clinton. Bauer's appointment was recommended by Mitchell, in part because of his prior impeachment work.

Bauer has represented both the Democratic Senatorial and Congressional Campaign Committees. He defended House Democratic Minority Leader Richard Gephardt in an ethics matter, in which the Missouri Democrat was accused, by a Republican colleague, of failing to report $24,000 in rental income on a vacation home. And Bauer represented former Gore Campaign Manager Tony Coelho for his role in an alleged junk-bond scheme.

Bauer is also no stranger to the New Hampshire political scene, having represented former Democratic Congressman Dick Swett, who was accused of overspending by $120,000, in his United States Senate race against Republican Senator Bob Smith.

Mitchell's legal team was unanimously retained by a six-member state Senate committee, composed of three Republicans and three Democrats. The full Senate, composed of 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats and led by Democrat Beverly Hollingworth, would sit as judge and jury in the impeachment trial, which could take place as early as Thursday or Friday.

While reluctant to talk for the record and run the risk of being accused of politicizing the already controversial impeachment issue, several Granite State Republicans questioned the advisability of retaining Mitchell, who is remembered as a highly partisan Democrat.

"It's hard to believe Mitchell was hired and Bauer seems to be a very bad choice, given his highly partisan background. You'd think they could have found someone whose reputation is less partisan and whose career is less political. There are a lot of lawyers in this state who would fit the bill, or in Boston, where there is certainly no shortage of very good attorneys," said one Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "No one on either side of the political aisle wants to be publicly critical, lest the person be accused of politicizing the impeachment process."

While characterizing Mitchell's appointment as "most welcome," an editorial in the Manchester Union Leader, the state's largest newspaper and a leading conservative voice, said the selection of Bauer, "casts a pall over his (Mitchell's) own selection and what has so far been a commendably non-partisan, straightforward investigation."

Speaking of Mitchell, the June editorial added, "His impeccable reputation as a statesman and his Maine residence make him a good fit for Senate counsel...sadly the same cannot be said for Robert Bauer," who has "made a career out of getting ethically-challenged Democratic politicians and operatives off the hook. At a time when New Hampshire's top judicial officials are under scrutiny for ethical shoddiness, Bauer would appear to be an ill-fitting cog in the wheel."

According to the editorial, Bauer was also "the one who helped Bill Clinton's pit bull, James Carville, get his attack machine up and running to attack Ken Starr and Republican advocates of impeachment."

Another member of Mitchell's team, Harold Pachios, of Portland, Maine and a partner in Mitchell's law firm, insisted Bauer was retained for his impeachment expertise. "Mr. Bauer is a highly respected and competent legal mind. We expect him to be very helpful."

Pachios also insisted Bauer's close relationship to powerful Democrats is not relevant to the issues he will address in the impeachment trial. "It's about as irrelevant as anything I can think want people on the legal team with experience and sound judgment, who are good lawyers."

Hollingworth insisted the Mitchell group was able to convince the selection committee it would be "bipartisan and fair," and would be able to "instill confidence in the process."

Jan Baran, a Republican DC-based attorney, who worked with Bauer in the drafting of a campaign finance reform plan, said neither Mitchell nor Bauer are likely to be partisan. Addressing the fact that Bauer is an advisor to some of the nation's top Democrats, Baran said, "He can also advocate on behalf of an institution, not just his party."