Manchester Judge Armand Capistran Was My Hero

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Manchester District Court Judge Armand Capistran

Sunshine Week promoting open government came and went last month. Since has declared a news emergency in New Hampshire, we decided every week should be Sunshine Week and every day Sunshine Day. To that end, we launched a series called Sunshine Second, examples of how officials respond to requests for public information.

Sunshine Second 4/18/16

I can’t remember details about the two criminal cases, the names of the defendants, or even the year. They definitely weren’t big headline grabbers, just everyday news.

Still, covering these cases mattered at the New Hampshire Union Leader where I was working then. And we wouldn’t have gotten the stories without the help of Manchester District Court Judge Armand Capistran, who died at the age of 81 nine years ago today on April 18, 2007. He served as a judge for 25 years before retiring in 1995.

I had been assigned to cover a Saturday morning arraignment of a drug dealer at Manchester District Court only to find the front entrance was locked. I was unable to alert anyone inside to come open the door. Frustrated, I later called Judge Capistran at home and explained my situation.

Judge Capistran told me to meet him at the courthouse in 30 minutes. He greeted me at the door and handed me the court documents from the morning’s proceeding. He seemed pleased with himself and happy to help.

The second time he came to my rescue was again for an arraignment, this time at either the Elliot Hospital or the Catholic Medical Center. I can’t remember which one, but I do recall I was getting thrown out of the lobby when Judge Capistran arrived.

He was about to arraign an injured driver in the man’s hospital room. The man had been arrested for causing a drunken driving crash.

Hospital officials had told me to leave the building, but I caught Judge Capistran making his way to the elevator as I was headed out. I quickly pleaded my case.

“Follow me,” Judge Capistran said. We both got on the elevator and didn’t speak again. Judge Capistran arraigned that day and I reported. What a judge.

The New Hampshire Bar Journal quoted from a New Hampshire Union Leader article by Pat Grossmith in remembering the judge after he died.

It recounted how Judge Capistran refused to allow a bullet-proof glass partition in front of his bench even after one defendant jumped the railing and punched him in the face. Officials waited until he went on vacation and had one installed.

The New Hampshire Bar Journal also ran a letter from Richard L. Rodman of Manchester about his favorite Judge Capistran anecdote. It was about a defendant who was accused of shoplifting food at a supermarket and the officer who was reading a list of the stolen items.

“At one point, the officer read, ‘Pork chops, eight dollars,’ and continued to read. Judge Capistran stopped him and said, ‘Wait; read that last item again.’ The officer read, ‘Pork chops, eight dollars.’ Judge Capistran stopped him and said, ‘That’s terrible. If I were you, I wouldn’t shop there anymore.’ The entire courtroom erupted in laughter,” Rodman wrote.