The Superior Court is a statewide court of general jurisdiction and provides jury trials in civil and criminal cases. There are eleven Superior Court sites in New Hampshire, one for each county and two in Hillsborough County.
In early 2012, the Chief Justice organized a Felony Case Flow conference for New Hampshire Superior Court judges and staff. The idea stemmed from a conference she attended in Phoenix, Arizona, at which was discussed how criminal justice stakeholders in Arizona implemented early case flow practices that have made the criminal justice system more effective and efficient. After the New Hampshire conference, a group of judges and clerks began developing an overarching Felony Case Flow plan for the state. HNMCP students will evaluate one part of this plan that is operational–the Settlement Judge Pilot project, in which criminal cases are assessed early in the case for referral to the settlement judge. The settlement judge then engages the parties in a process that may open the way to a resolution, including a plea. The evaluation will help the Court refine protocols to improve the implementation of the settlement judge pilot project.
The project proposal includes, but may not be limited to, the following activities:
- Meeting with judges, prosecutors, defense counsel and other key stakeholders in Hillsborough County-Southern District to assess whether or not the settlement judge pilot program is meeting its goals;
- Reviewing caseload statistics and case flow processes to determine the most effective timing of the program and how best to assist lawyers in identifying the type of case that might be suitable for the settlement judge program;
- Researching similar programs in other states and conducting a comparison analysis;
- Recommending modifications to help the program better achieve its goals.
The following deliverable(s) are envisioned:
- A report and in-person presentation that include the following elements
- A qualitative analysis of the effectiveness of the current settlement judge pilot project;
- A comparative analysis of other similar programs across the country (AZ and ME) to help the Court determine whether a different model would be more efficient and successful;
- Review of and recommendations for rules and protocols for use in the settlement judge programs (e.g., should the meetings be private, should the parties provide a case memo, should the victims appear, etc.).