WINDHAM — Since 2002, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has generally picked one day of the year to hold a hearing outside of their chambers in Concord.
The latest edition of the Supreme Court’s “On the Road” series took place Wednesday at Windham High School, highlighted by oral arguments held on the appeal of State v. Christina A. Hill in front of an audience of Windham students.
In the case, initially heard in Cheshire County Superior Court earlier this year, Hill was charged with possession of crack cocaine and sale of crack cocaine. There, Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff disagreed with the state’s assertion that Hill was not a danger to the community, but did agree that Hill posed a flight risk, citing a lack of compliance with conditions of bail in another case and a recent arrest in Massachusetts.
David Rothstein, deputy director of the New Hampshire Public Defender’s office argued that in the initial hearing, the fact that bail was set at $25,000 was a violation of state law requiring judges not to impose a bail amount that the defendant could not be reasonably expected to pay in cases where the defendant was not an immediate danger to the community.
In response, New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Lisa Wolford noted that state law also required judges to assess evidence on whether defendants will appear for trial in determining bail and other pre-trial release conditions and adjust those conditions accordingly.
An opinion in the appeal is expected in three to six months, but unlike a normal New Hampshire Supreme Court hearing, this case was followed by students getting a chance to ask questions of Rothstein and Wolford, followed by the four associate justices hearing the case.
Associate Justice James Bassett became a member of the court in 2012 and was an attorney on the first “On the Road” case held at Saint Anselm College in 2002, facing off against former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte when she was still an Assistant Attorney General.
Like the other three associate justices, Bassett said he enjoys each time he can participate in the “On the Road” series, but he sees its key purpose as an educational one.
“It’s just a different type of experience,” he said. “But I think we all, whether we’re a lawyer or a judge, want kids and the public to understand as much of what we do as possible. The less mystery there is about who we are and what we do and how we do it, the better off we all are.”
Although student groups do travel to the Supreme Court’s facility in Concord to get a first hand look at the court in action, the environment and the court’s normally heavier daily workload prevents the justices from taking questions like they did on Wednesday, which ranged from careers in law to whether New Hampshire residents can carry swords in public or what would happen if all the judges on the court were found to have conflicts of interest.
“We will recognize from the bench when there is a school visiting, and we do acknowledge them, but we don’t have the informal back and forth with them. And we maybe try to be on our best behavior,” said Associate Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi. “And today with one case, it’s kind of a luxury since we can go a little deeper into argument.”
The session was preceded by a visit to Windham High School from New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and New Hampshire Solicitor General Dan Will, preparing students for what to expect in the final step after months of preparation for the event.
Windham High School Principal Stephen Sierpina said he was proud of his students’ thoughtful questions during the event and also praised his staff for their efforts organizing the event.
“It’s an honor that the high school was chosen and it was fantastic that the students got to hear a real court case and ask the justices questions,” said Sierpina.
“It was overall an unbelievable event. I think it was not only great for the high school, but a really great learning opportunity for the kids.”