2007 Winter, Pg. 5. The Judicial Journey of David A. Brock.

AuthorBy Hon. William F. Batchelder

New Hampshire Bar Journal


2007 Winter, Pg. 5.

The Judicial Journey of David A. Brock

New Hampshire Bar JournalWinter 2007, Volume 47, No. 4Judicial LegaciesThe Judicial Journey of David A. BrockThis article was first published as part of a tribute to Chief Justice Brock in Vol. 151 of the New Hampshire Reports, and is reprinted with permission of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.By Hon. William F. BatchelderOn October 6, 1986, David Allen Brock took the oath of office of Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court thereby becoming, in effect, the trustee and steward of the state's judicial branch of government. He retired on December 31, 2003, having served as chief justice for more than 17 years, a term longer than any of the preceding 32 chief justices with the exceptions of Frank Rowe Kenison (1952-77), Frank Nesmith Parsons (1902-24), William M. Richardson (1816-38), and Charles Cogswell Doe (1876-96).

Chief Justice Brock's judicial service began as a justice of the superior court on December 20, 1976. He joined the supreme court as an associate justice on June 9, 1978, becoming chief justice eight years later.

On September 27, 1978, the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawton v. Great Southwest Fire Ins. Co., 118 N.H. 607 (1978). The court held that the stated limits of coverage in a fire insurance policy did not limit the insurance company's liability on the insured's claim to recover losses of rental income occasioned by the company's alleged mishandling of his claim. Lawton, 118 N.H. at 610-13.

In the larger sense of law in the business world, the case was not a landmark decision. It was, however, one more stone in the wall of the common law that we build to guide us in separating right from wrong in the affairs of humankind. This case was a milestone in the life of David Brock as a judge. It was the first case in which he placed ink on paper as an appellate judge.

On April 16, 2004, the court issued a decision in New England Homes v. R.J. Guarnaccia Irrevocable Trust, 150 N.H. 732 (2004). Chief Justice Brock, writing for the court, held that commissions on the sale of modular homes were earned when the employer accepted the orders rather than when the homes were delivered to the site and that a writing between the parties did not sufficiently constitute a private convention to overcome the prevailing rules in such cases. New England Homes, 150 N.H. at 734-37. This was the last case attributed to him as chief justice.

Between these two cases, there were 798 others, 540 of which were authored while David Brock was chief justice. We learn from history that appellate judges are remembered for a few cases, but not the many. The few cases are the ones that change or shift the fundamental rules that constitute the underpinnings of the fabric, purpose and vision of a stable society. In this brief offering, I will attempt to touch upon a few of the few that define the David Brock I knew as a compassionate, trusting, forward-looking and wise jurist who cared greatly about the welfare of New Hampshire's citizens, their liberty and their government.

The events of recent decades in matters of population growth, communication and demands on government give credence to the adage that there is nothing so permanent as change. New Hampshire's judiciary did not escape the phenomena and reality of its own time and place.

During the years of the Kenison court a law clerk was hired for the first time. Judicial education became an integral part of the judicial function and long strides were taken in the area of court administration.

On September 16, 1970, the supreme court opened its doors for the administration of justice at its present location on Noble Drive at a ceremony at which Governor Walter Peterson presided. The event marked the end and the beginning of an era in the court's history. It is interesting to note that the matter of judicial education consumed a large portion of the remarks made by Chief Justice Earl Warren at the dedication ceremony.

During the chief justiceship of John W. King, a judiciary that for many decades had rested on a divided foundation of state, county and municipal government funding mechanisms became once and for all a state judiciary.

The Brock years witnessed an intensification of that which had gone on before. The highest number of cases filed in a year occurred in 1997 when there were 915 filings. The Chief Justice instituted a long-range plan that brought about legislatively-crafted change in the jurisdiction of the several courts and the creation of an administrative council providing a running dialogue between the courts and the administrative office of the courts.

A profound and far reaching jurisdictional shift was launched by the Chief Justice in cooperation with the Judicial Council and concerned legislators. A family division of the judiciary was created on an experimental basis and is now progressing to become statewide.

The Brock years were busy years on the administrative side of the ledger. They were time-consuming and, at times, daunting. The depth and breadth of the court docket during the Brock years cannot be credibly explained by reference to an isolated instance of court history. Having said this, on the argument list for December 1990 we heard, in a span of a few hours, a public utilities appeal involving more than $2 billion dollars, and in another appeal we heard two pro se litigants arguing the merits of $600 worth of tickets to a cancelled rock concert. I remember while driving home after the arguments giving thought to what a...

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