CONCORD — Attorney Dan St. Hilaire of Concord faced tough questioning Monday on his past votes as an executive councilor and his role on the state liquor commission at a confirmation hearing in his bid to become a Superior Court judge.
After a heated exchange with the nominee, Democratic Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky suggested he would move to delay the appointment.
A Concord city councilor, St. Hilaire was nominated by Gov. Chris Sununu last month. St. Hilaire and Sununu served together on the council as Republicans from 2011-13.
At the hearing before the five-member Executive Council, St. Hilaire was pressed by Democratic councilors Chris Pappas and Volinsky on his 2011 vote to defund Planned Parenthood of New England.
Volinsky also asked St. Hilaire several questions about his role as director of administration and chief operating officer for the NH Liquor Commission, which has been the focus of an investigation by Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, initiated at Volinsky’s request.
Pappas first brought up St. Hilaire’s vote against a Planned Parenthood contract, which resulted in the federal government stepping in to provide funds directly.
“I thought that decision went beyond the bounds of what the council should be doing by bringing other issues into the discussion, other than just evaluating the contract on the basis of the vendor’s ability to deliver on services,” Pappas said.
St. Hilaire said he voted the way he did because he could not be convinced by the organization that taxpayer funds would not be used to pay for abortions.
“In retrospect, I should have just voted to table the matter and gotten the information I needed to ensure myself there was a separation of funds,” he said. “I did meet with Planned Parenthood later, but those talks broke down.”
St. Hilaire pointed out that he is being nominated for a Superior Court position, where his position on abortion is not likely to matter.
“That question is appropriate, but probably more appropriate for a Supreme Court nominee,” he said.
“Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, so how do you even contemplate a Superior Court judge in New Hampshire overturning that? It’s impossible. So if that’s your concern, it’s not going to happen.”
St. Hilaire pointed to votes he’d cast in support of funding contracts to buttress the Affordable Care Act as it was rolled out in 2012.
“The right or left can pick me apart on one issue or another,” he said. “But when a case comes before me none of that matters. The law is what matters.”
Volinsky, also an attorney, asked several questions about a two-page letter from Deputy Attorney General Jane Young that was released on Friday. The letter was in response to a request from Volinsky for an investigation of large cash transactions at state-run liquor stores, and it absolved the liquor commission of any wrongdoing.
Volinsky asked St. Hilaire if he agreed with the findings of the attorney general’s investigation into the NHLC, particularly the statement that “the Department of Justice has not found any credible evidence that the cash received by the state liquor commission from large volume transactions is derived from any sort of illegal trafficking.”
“The Attorney General’s office is investigating the matter, and I would leave it up to them to form conclusions,” said St. Hilaire.
After a back-and-forth over the kind of financial reports St. Hilaire provided as chief administrator of the NHLC, Volinsky suggested he would move to table the vote to confirm.
“If I can’t get this information in a timely fashion, it’s hard for me to judge your qualifications as a judicial candidate,” Volinsky said. “I may have to ask to put off the vote.”
Although polite, the exchange between the two men grew tense after Volinsky cited a disciplinary action brought against St. Hilaire involving a conflict of interest, in which he represented two clients being sued in small claims court by the same contractor for nonpayment.
“No offense, but can’t we find candidates who have experience across the entire Superior Court jurisdiction and who don’t have disciplinary records?” Volinsky asked. “Do you think legitimately you are the best we can do for Superior Court in New Hampshire?”
St. Hilaire took up the challenge as the two men sat about three feet from each other.
“I would not ask that question that way, because I used to sit in that seat,” St. Hilaire said to Volinsky. “As a judge, I would never treat a party or ask a question that way.
“I feel my body of work over a decade is admirable. I have served in different capacities, managed different programs, managed different people, went to trial on hundreds of cases, and I would match that up with any candidate you have before you.”
When asked afterward if he would try to block St. Hilaire’s appointment, Volinsky said, “I have a call into the attorney general’s office, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”