AP NEWS

Court holds Statehouse session for building’s bicentennial

June 4, 2019

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Supreme Court justices can’t get into lawmakers’ minds to interpret legislative intent, but they can get into their building for a special occasion.

The court held oral arguments in Representative’s Hall on Tuesday as part of a weeklong celebration of the Statehouse’s bicentennial. They heard a case involving a dispute between a property owner and two architectural firms that arose after a man fell on the stairs leading from a Hanover building to a sidewalk in 2015.

The man sued the property owner, which then sued the architects. Before going any further, the trial court asked the Supreme Court to clarify whether the property owner’s suit is permissible under the law that sets time limits on claims arising out of defective property improvements.

Retired Justice Carol Conby explained the case to the audience before the arguments started. Examining legislative intent is not an issue that grabs headlines, she said, but it is a key part of the court’s responsibilities.

“Statutes are passed by the Legislature, and sometimes there’s some ambiguity when they are not crystal clear,” she said, drawing laughter from many lawmakers in the audience. “It is the job of the Supreme Court to answer those questions.”

In contrast to the quiet that usually surrounds oral arguments, Chief Justice Robert Lynn also prompted laughter when he questioned an attorney about language that was removed from the law in recent decades.

“One would think that the Legislature must’ve understood what they were doing when they took the words out,” he said.

The court held sessions in the Statehouse from 1874 to 1895, sharing space with the state Senate. It later moved to its own building in Concord.

“What this session has done is reinforce the need for the Legislature to be clear in its intent when it passes laws,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, chairman of the Statehouse Bicentennial Commission.

The commission has spent several years organizing a week of festivities honoring the Statehouse, the oldest state capitol in which both houses of the Legislature meet in their original chambers. It is one of just five Statehouses to reach its bicentennial year.

Tuesday’s bicentennial events calendar also included a discussion featuring former members of the Statehouse press corps. Wednesday is devoted to the state’s cultural heritage and arts, while Thursday will be Homecoming Day for former lawmakers. A “New Hampshire Made” street market will be held Friday, with closing ceremonies Saturday.

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