N.H. legal community honors the late Judge Perkins

LACONIA — Family, friends and former colleagues, including all five members of the New Hampshire Supreme Court gathered at the Belknap County Superior Courthouse yesterday to honor the late Presiding Judge Harold W. Perkins, who was remembered as a down-to-earth man who saw the human being in every person he met.

Those who spoke, recounted more than just Perkin's judicial acumen and his ability to mentor those who came with and behind him. All told comical "Harry" stories and recalled times they all shared drinks after work, listened to his fishing stories, and showed his love for New Hampshire.

N.H. Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis spoke first and pointed out yesterday's "glorious" weather. She said it was the kind of "vibrant and perfect day" that Perkins loved so much.

"He lived for the day and he lived for the moment," Dalianis said, saying Perkins was always one who never squandered time worrying about the things he couldn't control.

Perkins was admitted to the New Hampshire Bar in 1963 and was named to the Superior Court bench in 1988. He presided over the Belknap County Superior Court until his forced retirement at age 70 in 2006 and worked on his 70th birthday. After retirement those remembering him said he remained active as a mediator and mentor.

Dalianis also remembered the comical side of Perkins.

He loved fly-fishing she said, quipping that from 1999 to 2006 he tied $10,000 worth of fishing flies for some "extra-judicial" income.

"Since he was forced out, it's good he had those things to fall back on," Dalianis said, gently calling to the fore one of Perkins' pet peeves — the mandatory judicial retirement age of 70.

Dalianis also remembered him as an "integral part of our bricks and mortar system."

"He loved the law, he knew its grandeur, and he knew what it could do for people," she said, adding he especially loved and appreciated the jurors who he always addressed personally rather than in formulaic jury instructions.

Yesterday, his veiled portrait was carried into the courtroom and placed on an easel near the judge's bench by a Sheriff's Department, Court Security honor guard and before it was unveiled, senior Court Security Officer Ray Wakeman rang the buzzer in the judge's chambers and declared, "All rise."

The judge's bench sat empty through Dalanis's remarks. After her, Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nedeau unveiled Perkin's framed photographic portrait — captured by former Citizen reporter Gordon King — before she briefly addressed the people who came to honor him.

Senior Asst. Attorney General Lauren Noether, who cut her teeth as the Belknap County Attorney during Perkins time on the bench in Laconia, read a letter that she wrote posthumously to Perkins thanking him for all of the legal and life lessons she learned from him.

She recalled that Perkins gave each defendant their dignity — even at their lowest moments. "Nobody left your courtroom feeling ignored," she said.

"Judge Perkins," she said to a framed photograph of him that presided over the courtroom. "You were a gifted judge of character...thank you for helping me grow."

Colebrook Atty. Philip Waystack remembered how Perkins loved fly-fishing in the North Country and how people in the north could always count on him to take the bench in Coos County when other judges were reluctant to do so.

He said above all else, Perkins was a great mentor, telling the nearly 150 attendees stories about how Perkins helped him learned the ropes when he was a young lawyer.

Judge Larry Smukler, who also acted as emcee, recalled his old friend with fondness and with laughter. He said Perkins always found something he liked about a case and that was because he liked people.

"I could always call Harry. His advice was always good," said Smukler, who told a story about Perkins final days and his visit to the rehabilitation center where the judge had convinced the nursing staff to let him have his one cocktail a night.

He said the two were sitting in Perkins's room, after Smukler had also been provided with a glass with ice and scotch by the nurses, and learned that Perkins had recently given advice to one of his nurses about how to get out of jury duty. And Smukler was the justice who excused her.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Gary Hicks recalled always being able to call Perkins for advice — even when he was presiding on the bench.

Hicks recalled one time that the bailiff slipped a note to Perkins after which he called a recess during his own trial to call Hicks and help him out with his.

"He called me back and got me out of a jam," Hicks said.

But it was former law partner and retired N.H. Supreme Court Judge Charles "Chuck" Douglas who knew him as well as anyone and had some wonderfully funny stories about the two of them.

He had the attendees laughing out loud as he told a story about being courtroom adversaries in Family Court during the time when the two had just met and a group of students from New England College was observing that day. He said Perkins refused to waive the reading of a complaint against his client, including all its salty language, regarding a domestic squabble.

Douglas said he was a little confused by that move but "if Harry wasn't waiving, he wasn't waiving" and he also asked for the clerk to read aloud the charges against his client, despite the fact the the squabble took place in a parking lot where each of their clients said the same things to each other.

"I got my first lesson in judicial marketing," Douglas recounted, saying the two went for a beer immediately after the hearing.

Douglas said Perkins told him to realize they were speaking in front of a group of students — some of whom were likely to need legal assistance some day — and that he should present himself as "somebody they'll want to call."

The two went into a legal partnership shortly after that.

He said he learned, most of all, that even after a person became a judge that he or she was to always remember that "once a lawyer... always a lawyer."

Douglas referred to Perkins as a Teflon judge in that it was rare to have one of his rulings overturned. "Even when he was wrong, he was right," said Douglas.
"Do what's right, do what's fair, and do what's just," Douglas said.

Perkins died on August 23, 2013. His two daughters, Tammy Lui and Linda Walsh, were among the many who honored him yesterday.