Executive Councilor Dave Wheeler says Gov. Chris Sununu’s troubled judicial pick Brian Shaughnessy doesn’t belong on the bench, and he should withdraw from consideration. And if he doesn’t, Sununu should pull the nomination himself.
Wheeler’s announcement adds to the growing speculation that Shaughnessy’s nomination will not make it through the Executive Council.
Shaughnessy, who served as assistant town moderator, is best known for his role in the town of Bedford’s bungled 2020 elections and urging his fellow town officials to keep their mistakes secret from the public. Rather than stepping back, Shaughnessy is currently a candidate for the town moderator position, a move that is raising its own ethical questions.
NHJournal reached out to all five members of the Executive Council. Only one would speak on the record, and his message to fellow Republican Chris Sununu was clear.
“I have received many calls from citizens questioning his integrity and asking me to oppose his nomination,” Wheeler told NHJournal. “Mr. Shaughnessy should withdraw himself from nomination.”
If he doesn’t, Sununu should pull his name from consideration, Wheeler added.
And, Wheeler said, “If neither happens before his public hearing, [Shaughnessy] has a lot of explaining to do!”
Assuming Democrat Cinde Warmington opposes Shaughnessy’s nomination, that puts the problematic pick just one vote away from defeat on the 4-1 GOP-controlled Council. Sources close to the remaining Executive Councilors say there is little support for Sununu’s nominee among Republican councilors, who are hearing grassroots opposition to the nomination.
Few Republicans want to criticize the popular Republican governor on the record; but behind the scenes, some of his supporters are irate that is he is recharging the election-integrity issue.
Sununu did not respond to a request for comment.
One person willing to speak was former Town Councilor Kelleigh Murphy, who cast a vote of”no confidence” last November over Shaughnessy’s mishandling of ballots and declaration that the councilors, and the voters of Bedford, had no right to know what election officials were doing.
“We don’t work for you,” Shaugnessy told the town council.
Murphy told NHJournal on Tuesday, “I don’t think it’s an appropriate nomination. The judiciary is the highest echelon of the legal profession, and nominees to and those holding that honor should (and typically are) reflective of the highest level of character and fitness.”
Days after the November 2020 general election, a tray of 190 uncounted absentee ballots was discovered in Bedford. Rather than reveal the mistake, Shaughnessy advised the town moderator and other officials to inform the Secretary of State but leave the town council and disenfranchised voters in the dark. It was nearly a year before the truth came out, at which time the town sent a letter falsely claiming the state Attorney General’s office instructed it to hide the error.
Shaughnessy has since acknowledged he was the source of the “haphazard legal advice” that kept voters from finding out what town officials had done.
A few weeks later, another stack of mishandled ballots was discovered by Bedford officials. Again the town refused to reveal basic details about the ballots to the public. The town is currently under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office over the second tranche of ballots.
And Shaughnessy’s troubles may not end there.
An email is circulating within Bedford legal and political circles raising questions about the ethics of Shaughnessy campaigning for the town moderator position in the March 8 election. The email includes a link to the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct, specifically Canon 4: “A Judge Or Candidate For Judicial Office Shall Not Engage In Political Or Campaign Activity That Is Inconsistent With The Independence, Integrity, Or Impartiality Of The Judiciary.”
A Bedford attorney who asked to remain anonymous said there was a general unease with the idea of Shaughessy running for office as a judicial candidate and, even more, serving as both a judge and the town’s top election official.
“Elections are politicized now. There are all kinds of questions and conspiracies. People aren’t saying it’s illegal or even wrong [for Shaughnessy to hold both jobs], but they aren’t happy about it, either.”
Hanan Wiseman is running for town moderator as a write-in candidate. He tells NHJournal voters are raising the issue of Shaughnessy’s judicial nominee when he’s out campaigning.
“I’m not finding any support for [Shaughnessy] or his judgeship,” Wiseman said. “And a lot of people don’t believe the Executive Council will approve him.”
Shaughnessy declined to respond to a request for comment.