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Democrats Question St. Hilaire's Past Vote During Judicial Confirmation Hearing

Todd Bookman/NHPR

Dan St. Hilaire was a county attorney, worked in private practice, has a passion for amateur astronomy, and currently works for the New Hampshire Liquor Commission. But it was his vote against a contract for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in 2011 while serving on the Executive Council that generated the most discussion during his confirmation hearing Monday to serve as a Superior Court judge.

St. Hilaire, a Republican, cast one of three votes against a $1.8 million federal contract for women’s health services, citing his concern that the money could be used for abortion services despite a ban on federal dollars funding such services. During his hearing, St. Hilaire said he wished he had handled the vote differently, including requesting a delay, but that he believed there were legitimate questions about how Planned Parenthood separates its finances.

“I know this Council is focused on that one vote, and I get it, but you have to look at the body of what I’ve done as a person, and it hasn’t just been focused on this one issue,” said St. Hilaire. “To me this was one issue out of thousands and thousands issues that I had to deal with.”

Democrat Chris Pappas criticized St. Hilaire’s vote, saying that it “injected politics” into the process.

St. Hilaire also received sharp questioning from Democrat Andru Volinsky, including on a disciplinary action taken by the New Hampshire Bar Association regarding a conflict of interest dispute involving two of St. Hilaire’s clients. St. Hilaire admitted he made a mistake in his handling of the situation.

Volinsky also raised questions about St. Hilaire’s role as legal counsel at the Liquor Commission, which was cleared last week by the Attorney General’s office for its handling of alleged “bootleggers” and large all-cash sales to out of state customers. St. Hilaire declined to answer specific questions about what documents he may have turned over during the investigation, citing attorney-client privilege. He also said he was unaware of any ties between large all-cash sales and known criminal activity, something Volinsky said was well-documented in media reports.

That led to perhaps the sharpest moment of the hearing, during which Volinsky asked St. Hilaire: “Are you the best we can do for Superior Court in New Hampshire?”

St. Hilaire responded, “You know, Councilor, I would not ask that question that way, because I used to sit in that seat,” referencing his time representing District 2.

“And I have it now,” said Volinsky.

“You do have it now,” replied St. Hilaire.

“And I did ask the question,” said Volinsky.

“And you did ask it,” admitted St. Hilaire. “But that’s the point. As a judge, I would never treat a party and ask them a question such as that.”

St. Hilaire further responded that he does believe he is qualified to serve, citing his years as a County Attorney and work in private practice.

After the Executive Councilors finished their questioning, a stream of friends and co-workers of St. Hilaire’s testified in support of his nomination, citing his character, dedication and longstanding service to the state.

The Council could vote as early as Wednesday on his nomination, which was put forward by Gov. Chris Sununu. Republicans currently hold a 3-2 majority in the Council, though that majority will swap in favor of Democrats following November’s election results.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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