Second Act
Page 3 of 5

Second Act
Kathleen McGuire '70

When she heads to work each day, Kathleen McGuire '70 knows she's in for an earful. Violent felonies, automobile accidents, medical malpractice suits, robberies and drug cases--they all come through her courtroom, a steady parade of human drama and heart-wrenching stories. Of course, the superior court judge also hears a slew of more mundane civil cases. Whatever the charge, McGuire gives it her full attention. She listens to lawyers and reviews testimony. She writes opinions and carefully crafts decisions she knows will remain on record forever. And she does it all in the glare of the public spotlight. But on Tuesday mornings, McGuire steps into her chambers and closes the door. On Tuesday mornings, her work gets personal.

It might be a teenager who got arrested for stealing. It could be a woman who was using drugs or a man who stole a car. They have different stories, but all the offenders McGuire meets with have one thing in common: She believes in them. She thinks they deserve a chance to turn their lives around without going to jail. The judge is so convinced that this approach, called "alternative sentencing," can work, that she devotes her own time to supporting the program. Were they supposed to call the DMV to find out how to get their license back? Did they attend the resume writing class? How did the job interview go? "If they don't follow through, I call them on it," McGuire says. But it's the positive feedback that really matters, according to McGuire. "For most of these people, in their whole lives no one has ever said what a good job they've done. When I say, 'You're doing a good job,' it's huge."

McGuire spent more than a dozen years teaching before she returned to UNH for a doctorate in history. (She'd already picked up a master's at the University of Florida.) Her plan had been to continue teaching. Instead, she changed tack to a career she felt held financial promise and the power to effect real change. She went on to law school, graduating in 1983 from Boston College, just one month before her son was born. Law degree barely in hand, McGuire landed a job as a clerk at the New Hampshire Supreme Court, then moved on to the New Hampshire attorney general's office, where she worked as a prosecutor, often handling difficult murder cases. In 1989, just six years after McGuire graduated from law school, Gov. Judd Gregg appointed her to the New Hampshire Superior Court, where she's been ever since.

Looking back on her two decades in the legal profession, McGuire sees her first career as ideal preparation. "In order to teach, you really have to prepare material and present it in a logical fashion," she says. "The same is true when you prepare a case to present to a jury. And now, as a judge, I'm writing orders, organizing trials. I learned very valuable skills from being a teacher."

McGuire loves law partly because, like teaching, it's intellectually challenging. "But it's also a job where you can make things happen," she says, citing her involvement with the alternative sentencing program as one of the most rewarding parts of the job. "To see people who, given the resources and the chance and the structure, plus a judge's involvement, turn their lives around for good--I take a lot of pride and satisfaction in the part I've played in that."

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