An Uncharted Path
Page: < Prev 1 2 3 4

Describing her, friends and colleagues of Jackie Colburn frequently reach for the same words, usually in tandem with their balancing counterpart: tough but compassionate, stubborn but creative, smart but always looking for the simplest solution. Most importantly to Keating, she was the consummate professional, "absolutely modeling the expectation for how our attorneys should conduct themselves."

Indeed, for all her sociability, flexibility and compassion, Colburn is widely known as uncompromising when it comes to ethics. Keating remembers the day she decided enough was enough with a particular attorney whose performance, she thought, had crossed the ethical line. "She met him one morning at the courthouse and as he walked up the steps she said, 'Give me your files.' She told him he was done and to go back to his office and clean out his desk. And she went into court with his files and tried his cases."

Colburn knew she was taking a chance. She'd never proposed anything like this before. "Judges have to consider four things for sentencing: rehabilitation and punishment of the defendant, specific deterrents—meaning what am I going to do to sentence this person so this never happens again?—and general deterrents, meaning what message will this send to the broader community? There was no guarantee that the judge was going to decide that the sentence we proposed actually met those four goals."

But in the end, he did. "The key for me was the cooperation that Jackie was able to generate with the victim's parents," says Fitzgerald. He was also satisfied with the terms of the proposed presentations. Never before had he seen a community service proposal from a defense attorney that was so specific and thorough. "Any question I had, she had an answer for it."

For the next year and a half, Jim Dozois spoke over and over to rooms full of hundreds of high school students. Through tears, he relayed the events of the night the accident happened and spoke about his incarceration. Colburn spoke, too. Hall's father was there, and he often talked about his son.

Fitzgerald also attended the talks. Although he spoke occasionally, he mostly preferred to hang back unnoticed in the audience, so he could gauge reactions and determine whether the goals of sentencing were being met. He decided they were. "Jim's presentation was far more powerful than I had anticipated. I can't tell you how many students I saw who were reduced to tears." Colburn estimates that Dozois told his story to 5,000 students and believes that lives were probably saved.

No fewer than 25 lawyers have approached Colburn asking for copies of Dozois' presentation, the details of the sentence, or both. It's thought of as the gold standard in alternative sentencing, where the goals of sentencing are met without sending the defendant to prison. It's not appropriate in all cases—some criminals need to be removed from society—and it's not always fully successful. In one 2005 case, a judge sent a Salisbury, Mass., man guilty of causing a fatal car crash back to jail for not creating the court-approved video that was part of his sentence.

In 2009, Colburn left the public defender's office and was sworn in as an associate justice with Hillsborough County's Superior Court. Now sitting as a judge, has her viewpoint changed on creative solutions like the one she proposed for Jim Dozois?

She wishes she saw more of it, actually. But it's not creativity on the part of the lawyers that's lacking, but rather the resources that make such plans a realistic possibility. Particularly for criminals with drug problems, which she sees most often, ongoing budget issues mean that resources are fewer than even 10 years ago. To Colburn, that's one of the most frustrating parts of her job. Even when prison is appropriate for punishment, it's not so effective for rehabilitation. "The reality is that the vast majority of criminals who we're sending to jail are eventually coming back into the community. I can lock someone up for three to six years, but what's going to happen in six years? We have to find ways to be creative in alternative sentencing or to provide programming so that these people don't come out of jail in the same vein they went in."

Also in 2009, Colburn was presented with the Frank Rowe Kenison Award, which recognizes exceptional contributions to New Hampshire citizens through the legal system. The ties she's forged on her way to the bench remain strong. Thayer, now a staff attorney with the Strafford County public defender's office in Dover, considers her an inspiration. When Colburn left the public defender program last year, Thayer remembers, there was a gathering in her honor in Concord. "Jackie got up to speak and looked around at maybe 100 people and said she could probably name everyone in the room. I really think she could have." ~

Sandra Hume '92 is a freelance writer in Manter, Kan.

Editor's note: This story drew upon a Concord Monitor series, "I Killed My Best Friend," by Stephanie Hanes, who is now a freelance journalist based in Baltimore, Md.

Page: < Prev 1 2 3 4

 Easy to print version

blog comments powered by Disqus