NH House Impeaches Chief Justice

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - For the first time since 1790, a New Hampshire public official has been impeached for misconduct in office. The state's chief justice, David Brock, was impeached Wednesday by the state House of Representatives in an overwhelming vote of 253-95.

The legislature brought Brock up on a series of alleged offenses. Some of the charges were more than 10 years old, according to wire service reports. The final vote to impeach Brock came after seven hours of debate by state lawmakers.

Brock now will face a state Senate trial that could result in his removal from the bench.

A chief justice since 1987, Brock is charged with a series of alleged rules-of-law violations including: involvement in politically-connected cases; intervention in another justice's divorce case; lying under oath during an investigation, and allowing disqualified justices, because of conflicts of interest, to comment on impending rulings.

''He has done nothing wrong,'' lawyer Ralph Lancaster said of Brock, his client.

Brock, who has been chief justice since 1986, apologized in June for using poor judgment and meaning no harm in his reactions to sensitive situations.

Republican Representative Albert Hamel said the New Hampshire House had a chance to restore the high court's moral authority only by voting for impeachment - and did so.

The Republicans control both the Senate and House. Brock also is a Republican.

The last impeachment in New Hampshire was 210 years ago. Woodbury Langdon, a justice of the Supreme Court who was described as ''arbitrary and haughty,'' resigned before his Senate trial.

Brock's lawyers and other supporters said the Judiciary Committee lowered the threshold for impeachment too far. Historically, they said, officials have been impeached for willful misconduct, not poor judgment.

They said there was no evidence Brock committed any impeachable offenses that the state Constitution defines as ''bribery, corruption, malpractice or maladministration.''

On Monday, Brock said that he would consider resigning if he could do so with dignity, and only if the House did not adopt the article of impeachment accusing him of lying.

If he resigns now, before he turns 65, Brock will get no pension, unless the Legislature changes the law.