The Local Courts

Chapter 10 -- Part 2

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A police court was begun in Hampton in 1875, presided over by attorney Charles M. Lamprey. Ten years later, the Town decided the court was unnecessary and it was abolished, although Lamprey continued to be addressed as "Judge." The Manual of the General Court, commonly called the "red book," is issued every odd-numbered year by the New Hampshire secretary of state's office as the official record for elections to county, state, and national offices. It also lists elected and appointed state officials as well as names of judges, and brief histories of towns. Between 1885 and 1915, the Manual does not list any Hampton judges, although a state-authorized police court system was in effect and Exeter had a judge. Hampton did have some sort of a court, however, as many town reports list fines as receipts. In 1901, for example, the Town received $117 in liquor fines; in 1903, liquor fines totaled $260; in 1906, the sum for fines was $20.50; in 1908, $404 from auto fines and $30 from police fines; and in 1909, the total was $65 from fines. The latter report indicated that the fines were turned over to the town by Howell M. Lamprey (son of Charles Lamprey) and Llewellyn Hobbs, the only attorney who maintained a Hampton office. In 1905 Lamprey was paid $9 for "justice fees" and $6 for "two complaints and warrants." Later, Charles Francis Adams received payments for his services as a "justice."

In June 1913, however, a new state law established police courts, including one in Hampton that also served Seabrook, South Hampton, North Hampton, and Hampton Falls. Sessions were held daily as needed for criminal cases and one day a month for civil cases. This court first met in the town hall in a room over the selectmen's meeting room, but since this space was also rented out to many civic groups, a room was set aside for court purposes at the rear of the town hall. Adjacent to the courtroom were two jail cells. After the town hall burned in 1949, the court moved to the second floor of the fire station, the former Grammar School building.

Various state laws have also changed the court. The police court system was replaced by municipal courts in 1919, but Hampton's court continued to hear cases from surrounding towns. Seabrook established its own municipal court in 1936. In 1964, Hampton became a district court and continued to hear cases from Hampton Falls, North Hampton, and South Hampton, but Seabrook voters elected to keep their municipal court, since Judge William W. Treat agreed to remain in that position. After Treat's retirement in 1973, the Seabrook municipal court was closed and cases have been heard in Hampton. For many years the court was a revenue-producing agency of the town. For example, in 1982, the operation of the court cost Hampton $147,000 but the income from fines and costs was $230,000. That arrangement changed in 1984 when, under a new state law, the State assumed the cost of the court and retained all revenues.

When the 1913 police court law went into effect, Hampton's first state judge was the Reverend Edgar Warren, who was appointed in July 1914; William T. Ross was the special justice appointed the same year. Former selectman and school board member Abbott Joplin replaced Warren in April 1915. In February 1918, insurance agent Howell M. Lamprey, son of former Judge Charles Lamprey, became justice of the court. He replaced Judge Joplin, who had to retire because he had reached age 70, the mandatory retirement age for judges. Charles Francis Adams, editor and publisher of the newspaper, was the special justice, serving from 1915 until 1936. With the exception of Charles Lamprey and Llewellyn Hobbs, none of these judges were lawyers; it was assumed that respected citizens were capable of serving as judges.

After Howell Lamprey's death in 1930, attorney John W. Perkins began a 42-year term as the judge of the local court. A native of Hampton and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Perkins was the youngest judge in the state when he was appointed at age 28. Perkins was elected to the Executive Council for the 1943-44 term, but his position as the Hampton judge remained open and he returned to the bench after his political foray. He was elected president of the New Hampshire Bar Association in 1949. From 1936 until 1967, the special justice was 0. Raymond Garland. He handled mostly juvenile and small claims cases. For the first 26 years of his term, Garland was also clerk of court, a position he formally relinquished to D. Malcolm Hamilton in 1962. Hamilton, who had been assisting Garland as clerk since the 1940s, retired in 1977. Garland was replaced as special justice in 1967 by Edward J. McDermott, who can remain in the position until he reaches age 70 in 2004. Helen Ceres was appointed as a full-time clerk to replace Hamilton, and she was followed by John Clark, who has been the clerk of court since November 1978.

Perkins was followed by H. Alfred Casassa, judge from 1972 until the end of 1979. The court became a full-time operation in 1980 and Casassa resigned as judge, preferring to concentrate on his law practice. When Casassa was appointed judge, the court had no full-time staff or telephone and handled 4,000 cases per year. When he retired, the court was handling 10,000 cases annually.

While Judge Perkins had to preside over nearly 200 cases resulting from the Hampton Beach riot of 1964, Casassa and Clerk Hamilton had the task of handling 1,414 cases of protesters arrested at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in 1977. Although Casassa was assisted by a number of special justices and court-rooms were set up across the county, Hamilton was responsible for the paperwork. Francis J. Frasier was appointed as judge in 1980 and he could serve until 2009. In 1988, the total caseload was 20,088 cases, of which 18,600 were criminal cases, 495 civil, 785 small claims, and 208 juvenile cases.

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