The Judicial Conduct Committee has issued Conway Circuit Court Judge Pamela D. Albee a “Reprimand and Caution” for failing to issue timely orders and using independent online research such as Zillow in deciding several marital cases.
It took Albee 13 months to issue a final order in the marital case that triggered the investigation, according to the agreement Albee signed with Judicial Conduct Committee Chairman Robert O. Wilson, DDS, on April 15.
She also had multiple cases on the overdue orders list during 2013 and 2014, the agreement said. The list is kept by administrators to make sure Circuit Court orders are completed within 30 days. Albee used Zillow to determine home values in marital assets and in one case to determine rental value of a second unit of the marital home for purposes related to an alimony award, the agreement said.
“(Albee’s) problem appeared to peak in 2014, where late decisions ranged from a low of seven in one month, to a high of 21 cases which were reported late and outstanding,” the agreement said.
By entering into the agreement, Albee, who was appointed by Gov. John Sununu in 1989, avoided facing formal discipline by the state Supreme Court.
Albee retired on Feb. 1 and has taken senior status, which allows her to hear cases on a part-time basis at $600 a day at the discretion of Judge Edwin Kelly, administrator of the Circuit Courts.
The New Hampshire Bar Association awarded Albee the prestigious William A. Grimes Award for Judicial Professionalism in August of 2015.
In an email response to InDepthNH.org, Albee said: “Unfortunately, I am unable to comment as I am presiding over the hearing on remand from the Supreme Court of the principle case involved in the remand. Under those circumstances, I feel it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the case/reprimand.”
She added that the Statewide Judges Conference held June 10 included a presentation on authenticating and admitting electronic evidence and when judicial notice can be taken regarding Internet resources.
In her response to the Judicial Conduct Committee, Albee blamed lack of court staffing, lack of writing time, being required to preside in multiple court locations with extensive travel and the nature of the Family Court caseload for getting behind in writing orders.
She also cited extensive judicial work in a high-profile criminal matter.
“She asserts that the delay in issuing decisions is not for lack of diligence on her part,” the agreement said.
Albee told the committee she worked every weekend and during vacations, but was unable to catch up. Judge Kelly told the committee he had been in frequent communication with Albee and disagreed with her comments.
“(Kelly) did not believe that either judicial or non-judicial staffing patterns in the courts to which Judge Albee is assigned is significantly different from other courts throughout the state.
“He stated that her caseload is consistent with those of other judges and given the level of the backlog of orders, he has actually provided her with considerably more writing time than any other judge in both 2013 and 2014,” the agreement said.
The Judicial Conduct Committee began investigating Albee after the state Supreme Court issued an opinion finding reversible error in the Sept. 11, 2015 case involving Tammy Rokowski and Shane Rokowski.
The conduct committee agreement included a complaint filed by Timothy Rioux of Nashua about the lack of timely orders in his marital case. Another unrelated case was added to the agreement in which Albee considered facts that had not been placed in evidence by the parties.
Timothy Rioux believes the conduct committee should have investigated all of Albee’s cases. He didn’t receive due process as a result of her actions, he said. The people whose cases were on the overdue orders list were cheated of their rights as well, Rioux said.
“They didn’t get a timely hearing. I suggested that the JCC investigate further,” Rioux said.
Rioux, an outspoken critic of the court system, plans to run for state representative as a Republican.
“These people need to be held accountable. There is no system of accountability for judges. The system protects them,” Rioux said. “The more digging you do, the more you realize it is corrupt at the core.”
Albee sustained serious injury from a fall in June of 2015 and had been on medical leave. She did not return to work fulltime, but did finally clear her overdue orders, the agreement said.
The Judicial Conduct Committee made a finding that Albee violated Canon 2, Rule 2.9C of the Code of Judicial Conduct for using evidence outside of the record, but said it was not serious enough to warrant formal discipline by the Supreme Court. Instead, with the consent of Albee, “the Committee issues this Reprimand.”
“The Committee urges that Judge Albee refrain from conducting factual investigations outside the evidentiary record of the hearing or utilizing that information in her decision-making process” without substantive guidance by the New Hampshire Rules of Evidence, the agreement said.
As to the delay in issuing orders, “the Committee determines that a clear violation of Canon 2, Rule 2.5 A is not found but that the judge acted in a manner which requires attention and Judge Albee stipulates and consents to resolution of that Code provision by its dismissal with the issuance of this caution.”
“Delays in rendering judicial decisions have negative consequences not only for the parties but for the overall administration of justice and must be avoided in the future,” the agreement said.
Judge Kelly said Albee’s problems were fairly recent. He said she has not yet sat on any cases.
“She served really ably in Carroll County and rarely was on the overdue orders list. This was a fairly recent phenomenon when she took on a full load of family cases in Carroll County,” Kelly said.
Those can be very complicated cases, especially when they involve complex child custody and family asset issues, Kelly said.
“It’s never been a question about the quality of her work or judging,” Kelly said. “Having Pamela Albee come back to work a limited amount would be of assistance to the system.”
The conduct committee was careful to place conditions if Albee does hear cases on a part-time basis, he said. She would serve at Judge Kelly’s discretion.