If you believe the law serves our society, you want to see constant improvement in the delivery of justice, because it so deeply affects people’s lives.”
Commissioner , New Hampshire Commission on Human Rights
David Cole has had 19 years of experience arguing both plaintiffs’ and defendants’ cases before the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights. In January 2008, he took on a new role, when New Hampshire Governor John Lynch appointed Cole to a five-year term as a commissioner. The Hanover-based business and personal injury attorney also practices in Vermont, where VLS classmate and Assistant Attorney General Martha Csala ’86 is responsible for human rights cases.
Some things don’t change—quickly, anyway—and Cole finds that sexual discrimination cases still dominate the human rights caseload in this region. “That’s what people are so much more aware of now,” Cole says.” Previously, even if something was legally actionable it wasn’t practically actionable. But with Vinson v. Meritor Savings Bank in 1986 and Anita Hill’s testimony in 1991, people began to realize, ‘That isn’t acceptable—and I have recourse.’” Heightened awareness of discrimination isn’t limited to victims, Cole says. “As people get more cognizant, the perpetrators hide their tracks better.”
So far, Cole’s work on the commission has involved investigative efforts. “There’s a widespread misconception about the number of cases that go before the commission,” he says. “The previous Executive Director, Katharine Daly, emphasized mediation during her long tenure—before mediation was so popular. In both New Hampshire and Vermont, the multistep process by which a claim is filed asks the parties if they’ll agree to mediation. If both are initially willing to mediate, I’d say 70 percent of cases are settled in the beginning. Only if one party refuses to mediate, or mediation fails, does it go to the investigative track.” Even if the case proceeds, Cole says, parties are notified in advance of the ruling and asked if they will agree to mediate. “Mediation gives them one more chance to deal with their own case before anything’s written.”
Before being named to the Commission, Cole spent many years as one of those mediators, serving on New Hampshire’s volunteer mediation panel. He’s also in his seventh year on New Hampshire’s professional conduct committee and sees all these activities in a similar light. “There are great intangible benefits to participating,” he says. “It sounds hokey—in law school we used to make fun of people who said, ‘I love the law,’ but I really do. It’s a great profession. If you believe the law serves our society, you want to see constant improvement in the delivery of justice, because it so deeply affects people’s lives.”