CONCORD – If new House Speaker Shawn Jasper was trying to convince Republican skeptics that he has no intention of pandering to the Democrats who played a major role in electing him to the position, he sent a strong message with his choice of House legal counsel.
In New Hampshire, lawyers don’t get any more Republican than Chuck Douglas. The Concord attorney and Bow resident has been a Republican’s Republican dating back some 40 years, when he was legal counsel for Gov. Meldrim Thomson Jr.
Douglas told the New Hampshire Journal this afternoon the circumstances of Jasper election played no part in his decision to accept Jasper’s request that he serve as House legal counsel.
“He reached out to me and said he wanted someone with experience in legislation and law,” Douglas said. “I’ve known Shawn for years and we’ve always gotten along well. He said he needed me and I said fine, I’m willing to help out.”
“I’m not sure how long it will last, but at least for this session I’ll do it and we’ll see,” he said.
Douglas, 72, said he has always been and “still am a strong Republican. I was not involved in any of the process. Shawn reached out to me this week and, frankly, if he were not a good conservative I wouldn’t be interested, but he has been a strong conservative Republican and has always supported Republican candidates and was helpful to me back when I ran.
“I had no problem with it because he is now the speaker and he is a Republican,” Douglas said. “My position is let’s get on with it and start doing the necessary work.”
The Douglas Leonard and Garvey law firm now has the legal counsels for both the New Hampshire House and state Senate. Richard Lehmann of the firm has long been the Senate legal counsel.
The Douglas appointment came as Jasper remains under fire from many House Republicans unhappy that he challenged GOP House caucus winner Bill O’Brien in the House election for Speaker on Organization Day last Wednesday.
O’Brien and his supporters are not recognizing the House Majority Leader appointed by Jasper, Rep. Jack Flanagan, and are planning to hold their own caucus in the coming days to elect their own Republican Leader to serve on the NHGOP executive committee. They say they are also planning to introduce a House rule change on Jan. 7 that would require Jasper to name their choice for House Republican Leader as the Majority Leader.
Jasper, meanwhile, has called a Republican caucus for Dec. 17, saying, “The purpose of this caucus is to begin work, from the ground up, on the Republican agenda. I want to hear from our members as to what they feel are the important issues that we should be focusing on in the coming session. It will be a great opportunity for a healthy exchange of ideas as we begin to craft our agenda.”
Douglas said he will be in attendance on opening day in the House “with the speaker and the clerk, and we will look at what they come up with. And obviously there will be votes and decisions will be made. But I don’t see it as something that’s going to change the direction things are already heading in. We’re very confident that it will be pretty much the status quo at the end of the day.”
Douglas said he considers O’Brien to be a friend, “and I have great respect for his devotion to limited government.
He represented O’Brien when O’Brien sued New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley over robocalls made by Buckley into O’Brien’s district in September 2010. The suit was dismissed and Douglas did not continue with the case when O’Brien unsuccessfully appealed.
Douglas said that not only did he represent O’Brien in the robocall case, but he also represented O’Brien’s wife and son in a voting issues matter.
He said that his work representing the NHGOP included a case in which Libertarians challenged for ballot access. He said he represented former NHGOP chair Jayne Millerick in litigation involving the party’s attempt to jam Democratic Party phones on the morning of Election Day, 2002. He represented the party when Democrats challenged Republican poll watchers’ attempt to have access to new registration forms in Durham.
His most recent politically-focused case was representing former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass in his defense of charges brought by the Attorney General’s Office that Bass in 2010 broke the state’s law governing push polling. Douglas won the case in the fall when the state Supreme Court ruled that candidates for federal office are not subject to the push poll disclosure requirements.
Even in the past month, Douglas represented Republicans in two House recounts.
Douglas was well-known on the state’s highest court as a sharp questioner and a staunch conservative. He served on the court for a time with future U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter as well as with former Gov. John King.
In 1985 he left the court for private practice, but soon tried his hand at elective politics, winning the 2nd District U.S. House seat in 1988 over Democrat Jim Donchess following a bruising primary battle against Betty Tamposi.
Douglas lost his reelection bid to Democrat Dick Swett in 1990.
Douglas also served 23 years with the U.S. Army National Guard including as the state’s judge advocate general. He retired as a colonel.
Jasper called Douglas “an invaluable resource to the House,” and said he has “a wealth of knowledge when it comes to dealing with all three of the branches of state government.
“I am confident that he will be ready and able to deal with any legal issues or challenges that come before us.”