Former AG Delaney withdraws name from consideration for federal judge appointment

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May 18—Former New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney is withdrawing his name from consideration to become a federal appeals court judge amid strong criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

In a letter to President Biden dated Thursday, Delaney wrote, "At this time, I believe it is appropriate for me to withdraw my name from consideration for this position to advance the important work of the federal judiciary."

"I am honored that you nominated me for judicial service," Delaney wrote. "I am also deeply indebted to Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan for their continued support of my pending nomination before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I am most respectful of the Senate's constitutional role in considering my nomination."

Before Delaney withdrew, he appeared headed toward becoming the first of Biden's judicial nominees to fail for lack of support among Democrats. The nomination appeared on the Senate Judiciary Committee's agenda for a month but was never voted on.

In February, Delaney's nomination to the First Circuit Court of Appeals was met with fierce criticism on Capitol Hill because of his efforts to strip the anonymity of the victim in the St. Paul's School 2015 sexual assault scandal.

Republican senators on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee repeatedly pressed Delaney, who was representing the prestigious Concord prep school, for an explanation of his efforts to have Chessy Prout's name disclosed during a possible civil trial in a case her parents brought against St. Paul's.

Prout, who has written a book about her ordeal, wrote the Judiciary Committee opposing Delaney's appointment. Prout's parents were in the committee room during the February hearing.

At the hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, claimed Delaney bullied Prout, who eventually withdrew her request for anonymity and revealed her name.

"You made the decision. You forced her to come forward. She was brave and did it, and now you're accountable for that. And quite frankly, I'm astounded you've been nominated," Hawley said before announcing he would not support Delaney.

In response, Delaney said the school was responding to papers filed by Prout that sought to protect her anonymity. The school could support her anonymity as long as lawyers refrained from trying the case in the media, Delaney said.

Delaney asked the committee to consider his 30 years of work as a lawyer.

"I have spent nearly 30 years in a legal career, half in public service. I have tried through my work as attorney general and as a frontline prosecutor to represent the interests of victims in all that I did," he said.

Delaney also said: "I was just an advocate advocating for my client, as I had the duty to do."

Democrats also raised concerns about a legal brief Delaney signed defending a New Hampshire law, since repealed, requiring parents to be notified before their minor child had an abortion.

In response to written questions from committee members, Delaney said he had "extremely limited involvement" in that case, which was heard while he was deputy attorney general.

In 2015, a Merrimack County jury found St. Paul's senior Owen Labrie guilty of misdemeanor sexual assault, child endangerment and using a computer to lure an underaged girl into a sexual assault.

The trial revealed a sexualized culture at the prestigious school, including the "senior salute," in which graduating seniors would score their sexual conquests of younger students.

Prout was 15 at the time of the assaults.

Delaney did not represent Labrie. He represented St. Paul's in a civil suit brought by Prout.

St. Paul's reached a confidential settlement with Prout, who went on to write a book, "I Have the Right To," her account of the ordeal.

In her letter to the Judiciary Committee, Prout said that when victims come forward, lawyers have a playbook of tactics to discredit, pressure and manipulate them into silence.

"I wasn't going to let Michael Delaney's dirty tactics bully me, then 16, into shame and silence," she wrote.

In January, Shaheen and Hassan, both New Hampshire Democrats, praised Biden's nomination of Delaney.

"His commitment to justice is evident throughout his career," they wrote.

On Thursday, Shaheen and Hassan released a joint statement saying they disagree with criticism Delaney received.

"We strongly supported Michael Delaney's nomination to serve as a First Circuit judge. We know personally his strong character and commitment to justice, and he earned the support of New Hampshire and national leaders, from the former director of the Office on Violence Against Women under President Obama to New Hampshire Supreme Court justices appointed by members of both parties," the statement read.

"We disagree with the criticism that has been leveled against him, and we are disappointed that it got in the way of confirming a highly qualified individual."

After leaving the Attorney General's Office, Delaney joined the prominent Manchester law firm McLane Middleton, where he chairs the litigation department.

pfeely@unionleader.com