An Uncharted Path
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Jacalyn Gallup Colburn '82, '96JD
Judge Jacalyn Gallup Colburn '82, '96JD

"It's assumed that people who end up with a public defender are at a tremendous disadvantage," says New Hampshire Superior Court chief justice Robert Lynn. "But if you ask people in the know, that's just not true. Our public defenders are first rate, every bit as good as any privately retained lawyer I've seen."

Keating estimates that Colburn, as his director of legal services from 2001-2009, had a hand in hiring 100 of the state's current public defenders. Yes, Colburn says readily, public defenders are usually fresh out of law school and at the bottom of the pay scale. But just because the pool of applicants is inexperienced doesn't mean that you can't be choosy. Every summer, about 500 resumes will arrive for only a handful of open positions. Colburn's hiring philosophy--which Keating shared--was that she recruited character, not skill sets. "You want the raw material. If they have a good work ethic and a good professional ethic, you can teach the trial skills."

The Dozois case was unusual in many respects. Not only were Dozois and Hall best friends, but Dozois had been living with the Halls at their home in Henniker, N.H. For years, Dozois had moved around Massachusetts with his family, wherever his mother could find work. Then, when he started his freshman year at New England College in 1995, he had met Josh Hall. They immediately became fast friends. Hall's parents, Doug and Patty, treated Dozois like a third son.

While Dozois was in jail, before his arraignment, the anguished Halls had tried to call him, but the call was not allowed by the authorities. At the arraignment, which was conducted by video, Dozois could see Doug and Patty Hall sitting in the courtroom, and his mother and father. Midway through the proceedings, Dozois collapsed, overcome with emotion.

Out on bail, Dozois attended Josh Hall's packed memorial service at the request of Doug and Patty. Friends spoke, recounting favorite memories of Josh Hall but also telling Dozois they would all get through the tragedy together. Sitting behind the Halls, Dozois cried through the service.

Colburn found that working as a public defender wasn't without sacrifice. The New Hampshire public defender's office handles 28,000 cases a year, from first-degree murders down to probation violations, with a single lawyer usually responsible for 65-70 open cases at a time. Colburn considered herself lucky that her 10 previous years in the workforce had already trained her in work-life balance; also her kids were in school and her husband was supportive and flexible. "But it was still pretty tough. When you're a young public defender, realistically you could work for 120 hours a week and not be done. You're never caught up."

In 2000, just four years after joining the public defender's office, Colburn was named managing attorney. The following year Keating became executive director of legal services. Looking for a new director, he wanted someone he could trust to be solely in charge of all the state's attorneys, their cases, their mentoring and their relationships with the courts. His new director of legal services would need to have a reputation for fearlessness, be already recognized for courtroom talent and have earned the hard-won respect of the "notoriously suspicious and anti-authoritarian public defender attorneys." He picked Jackie Colburn.

F rom the beginning, Dozois was adamant: he wanted to plead guilty. "Jimmy said he didn't want to go through a trial and did not want to put the Halls through any more anguish," Colburn told the Concord Monitor. But in negligent homicide cases where the defendant pleaded guilty, the inevitable outcome was prison time.

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