N.H.'s Supreme Court Chief Justice Stepping Down But Will Leave A Lasting Memory

Nov 13, 2017

Linda Dalianis, the head of New Hampshire’s highest court, is stepping down after nearly eight years on the job.

Many in the state’s legal community say she’ll leave a lot to be remembered by after almost four decades as a judge.

Linda Dalianis
Credit Courtesy of the N.H. Supreme Court

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick served on the bench with Dalianis for nearly a decade. He says she’s a great judge but– she’d be too modest to admit it.

“She was not quick to judge or decide. She could be persuaded and she could persuade others, so she added so much to the court that I served on," Broderick said. "And I think those qualities are not everyday qualities, so that will be hard to replace.”

During her 37 year career, Dalianis earned many awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nashua Bar Association.

She’s also been nationally recognized for founding the Daniel Webster Scholar program at the UNH Law School, the first of its kind in the nation. The program aims to better prepare lawyers by offering practical legal experience before they graduate.

But Dalianis is perhaps best known in her role as a trailblazer in New Hampshire’s justice system. She was the first woman to serve on the state’s Supreme Court and the first to lead it as chief justice. She was also the first female associate justice and first woman to serve as chief justice for the state’s superior court.

Broderick said these were no easy feats.

“She’s crashed through a lot of glass ceilings, which to young people now, particularly young women, might not seem that hard to do but in the era she was doing that – it was extraordinary what she was doing.”

Paving that way - took some work. In an interview late last year, Dalianis described her first day as a circuit court judge.

"I would like them to think of me as having been a good and fair judge and also as having been a capable and hardworking administrator and if I get that from folks that will be enough," Dalianis said.

She said – she arrived at the court in Manchester, drove into the designated judge’s parking spot and headed inside, robe in hand. But then…

“All of a sudden a court officer came running out the door and running down the stairs, ‘You can’t park there, you can’t park there,'" the court officer told Dalianis. "And I just kept walking because I knew I could park there. And I got up to him and I said, I’m sorry sir. He said: ‘You can’t park there, dear,'" Dalianis recounted.   

"And I said, well that’s Judge Dear. And he said, ‘Oh, oh I’m so sorry.’ And he never called me dear again and neither did any of the other bailiffs," she said with a laugh.

Governor Chris Sununu will have to nominate Dalianis’s replacement. This will be the second Supreme Court seat he’s had the chance to fill.

Ovide Lamontagne, a well-known Republican lawyer in the state, said Sununu’s nominee could be anyone’s guess.

“I do think he will look for someone who has independent judgment who applies the law to the facts, doesn’t create new law. And will truly be a professional in the best sense of the word," Lamontagne said.

"She's crashed through a lot of glass ceilings, which to young women, might not seem that hard to do, but in the era she was doing that - it was extraordinary what she was doing," Broderick said.

In the meantime, Dalianis still has a few more months on the bench. When asked what her legacy will be during an interview with the NH Bar Foundation – her answer was modest.

“If people think of me after I’m gone – I would like them to think of me as having been a good and fair judge and also as having been a capable and hardworking administrator and if I get that from folks that will be enough.”

Dalianis said she doesn’t plan to leave the judicial branch behind. She said she’ll still sit in on trials after she retires – this time in the spectator’s gallery.