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Judge in New Hampshire election law dispute steps aside

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 08. 2018 9:27PM
In a 13-page decision, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Charles Temple said stepping aside or recusing himself from being further involved in a current lawsuit is the right choice. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm, Pool/File)

NASHUA — A long-running court dispute over a controversial election reform law just got longer with the presiding judge deciding Friday to disqualify himself due to a close, personal relationship with one of the state’s lawyers.

The ruling throws yet another controversy at this court battle pitting the League of Women Voters and the New Hampshire Democratic Party against Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who is defending a law meant to require voters show proof at the polls or after the election that they actually live or are domiciled in New Hampshire.

Critics maintain the law known as SB 3 is meant to discourage college students, low-income and minority citizens from taking advantage of New Hampshire’s easy requirements to cast a ballot in the state.

In a 13-page decision, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Charles Temple said stepping aside or recusing himself from being further involved in this lawsuit is the right choice.

Temple’s conflict is his association with Bryan Gould, a Concord lawyer who the state of New Hampshire has brought on to help defend the lawsuit. A former legal counsel to the Republican State Committee, Gould is widely viewed as a constitutional and election law expert.

But Temple said the two families have been too close for him to remain involved.

“It’s a long-term relationship. I would say it began, oh well, over 20 years ago,” Temple revealed.

While judges and lawyers often have personal connections outside the courthouse, this friendship goes well beyond that.

“This is just not a friendship on a professional level with one of you involved in this particular case,” Temple wrote. “This is a personal relationship that goes well beyond that.”

For example, the two have coached with and against one another in youth baseball and softball leagues for more than 15 years.

With this decision, Temple denied the motion of the League of Women Voters to allow the judge to remain on the case by disqualifying Gould’s involvement.

“The retention of Attorney Gould is appropriate and necessary under these circumstances,” Temple wrote. “Rather than setting a troubling precedence, this ruling emphasizes the need to preserve public confidence in the impartiality of the court.”

Among its many provisions, SB 3 requires that individuals registering to vote provide proof of intent to be domiciled in the state, and in some cases complete an affidavit. Individuals attempting to register within 30 days of an election face additional requirements.

Backers of the new law have said that it does nothing more than require people who plan to vote in New Hampshire to prove that they live here, arguing that the lawsuit fails to allege any injury from the law.

The case was scheduled for a two-week trial to take place from Aug. 20 to 31.

“The court does not see any significant obstacles for a newly assigned judge to come up to speed on the pending motions and familiarize himself or herself with the case in an efficient manner,” Temple concluded.

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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