Phil McLaughlin, counselor, mentor & former N.H. Attorney General, to retire

LACONIA — "It was a job," said attorney Philip McLaughlin, reflecting on his career at the bar in anticipation of closing his practice by the end of the year. "You follow the facts, do your job and be loyal to your client. Just do your job and the rest will take care of itself."

The son of a Nashua police officer, McLaughlin graduated from the College of the Holy Cross, served four years as a deck officer in the United States Navy and earned his law degree at Boston College in 1974. He explained that he learned not to give orders in the Navy, where seamen were more likely to respect officers who asked rather than commanded. At law school he discovered his academic limits in a class on trusts and estates, when instead of preparing the required estate plan he photocopied a model plan, attributed it to its author and confessed to the puzzled instructor he could not improve on it.

Ever since McLaughlin has practiced law in Laconia with a changing cast of partners and associates, including Michael Murphy, Bob Hemeon, Jim Carroll, Matt Lahey and his wife Janice. Lahey, who joined McLaughlin in 1983, recalled "I looked on Phil as someone who had practiced for 100 years. He was a very good counselor, teacher and mentor."

The firm, Lahey recalled, thrived on a steady diet of civil and criminal litigation. McLaughlin did not shrink from taking challenging cases, including two particularly grizzly murders, and established himself as a persuasive presence in the courtroom. Dubbed "Boy Wonder" by McLaughlin, Lahey joked he was kept busy arguing appeals to the New Hampshire Supreme Court "because Phil was so good at losing cases." He remembered McLauglin as "immersed in the law" with an appetite for hard work and gift for legal strategy. "He used to say 'the college try isn't good enough' and he had a way of making people see things in ways they never imagined when they came through the door," he said.

McLaughlin served one term as Belknap County Attorney from 1979 to 1981 and later in the decade as chairman of the Laconia School Board was an outspoken critic of the City Council dominated by the "Straight Arrows." Years later McLaughlin, who counted several of the Straight Arrow councilors as friends, would remember the period as "an unfortunate time when we all behaved badly." He also served for 13 years as a member of the professional Conduct Committee of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Governor Jeanne Shaheen named McLaughlin Attorney General in May 1997, as what was perhaps the most violent summer in the history of the state began. On July 3, a six year old girl was found raped and murdered in Hopkinton. On August 19, Carl Drega shot and killed two state troopers, a judge and an editor as well as wounded three other officers in Colebrook. Five days later, Jeremy Charron, an Epsom police officer, was shot to death when he approached two young men at a rest stop.

McLaughlin, who said that "I'd never given much thought to the death penalty," was faced with demands to seek it. To the dismay of some, he charged the prime suspect in the girl's death with second degree murder only to find on the strength of DNA evidence that the suspect was innocent. Nor did he seek the death penalty in the murder of Jeremy Charron after evidence bearing on which of the two men pulled the trigger was mishandled by the state and suppressed by the court. McLaughlin personally explained his decision to the officer's father and later would remark "anger is not a good reason to do the wrong thing." Four years later, he was again criticized for nor pursuing the death penalty against Robert Tulloch, one of two men charged with the murders of Half and Susanne Zantrop in Hanover.

As Attorney General, McLaughlin testified in support of the death penalty, but in specific cases, where the evidence was in question, decided not to pursue it. Acknowledging the anger aroused by the crimes, he told the press "fury is not a basis for a justice system. Evidence is. Proof is."

Later, as a member of a commission charged with reviewing the death penalty, McLaughlin would join the minority recommending its abolition and submit a personal statement explaining his position. He recalled the misleading and ambiguous evidence of the cases he handled as Attorney General, but above all stressed the disparate sentences imposed on John Brooks, a wealthy white man, and Michael Addision, a poor black man. Brooks, who hired three men to kill someone he suspected of stealing from him, was sentenced to life, while Addison, who shot a Manchester police officer, was sentenced to death, Later he would ask why, if the death penalty serves an important public purpose, has it not been applied in 75 years?

During his tenure, McLaughlin confronted two of the most powerful and venerated institutions in the state — the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the Diocese of Machester. In 2000, McLaughlin received a memorandum from clerk of the Supreme Court reporting that Justice Steven Thayer, who was party to a bitter divorce being appealed to the court, objected to one of the judges Chief Justice David Brock chose to appoint in place of the sitting justices who had recused themselves. To make matters worse, the clerk claimed Brock sought to forestall the appointment.

Following an investigation, McLaughlin issued a report that prompted Thayer to resign rather than face a felony charge of wrongfully seeking to influence his colleagues in his own case. But, the report went further to accuse the justices of speaking to one another about cases from which they had recused themselves because of a personal bias or conflict of interest. The justices roundly rejected the allegations, but the report led to impeachment proceedings against Brock, who was acquitted by the New Hampshire Senate.

McLaughlin recalled walking the streets of Washington, D.C. for the better part of the day pondering how to proceed against the justices. Alongside the Jefferson Memorial at the tidal basin, he said that he determined "we must treat them the way we woul treat anyone else," which he said was something they did not understand.

"And the church didn't either," McLaughlin continued. When allegations of sexual abuse of children by members of the priesthood came to light, he negotiated an agreement by which the Catholic Diocese of Manchester acknowledged its failures and agreed to cooperate with the state. The diocese released 10,000 documents which after a ten month investigation supported a 154-page report. "The state was prepared to prove," the report read, "that the diocese consciously chose to protect itself and its priests from scandal, lawsuits, and criminal charges, instead of protecting minor parishioners under its care from continual sexual abuse by priests."

Jim Rosenberg, who with Will Delker, the head of the criminal division, undertook the inquiry, said that McLaughlin was the architect of the approach that eschewed criminal proceedings against the church hierarchy in favor of full disclosure and a commitment to cooperate with law enforcement. Rosenberg said that the outcome was preferable to what could have been expected from criminal proceedings. Noting that McLaughlin assembled a coalition of victim advocates and law enforcement officials, he stressed that "creative remedies were achieved by Phil's leadership."

McLaughlin also inherited the litigation over the funding public education and the boundary dispute with Maine, neither of which he counted as a success. He intervened to greater effect in helping to thwart of the merger of Manchester's two hospitals — Catholic Medical Center and Elliot Hospital — which he claimed failed to safeguard the charitable character of CMC.

Despite the issues that captured the headlines and aroused the controversy, he deemed legislation protecting physicians who prescribe high dosages of controlled drugs to ease the pain of dying patients from prosecution as "the best thing I did."

Leslie Ludtke, who left the Department of Justice as a senior associate attorney general after serving with five attorney generals from 1982 to 1997, said that McLaughlin "approached this job in a non-political fashion. He believed that you do the work, do what you think is right and if someone criticizes you, you always have a sound defense."

Auto shop owner arrested on meth charges after traffic stop

LACONIA — A local business owner has been ordered held on $100,000 cash bail on charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
Peter A. Dauphin, 42, of 19 Appleton St., appeared yesterday in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division. He was arrested Saturday night after police stopped him for allegedly squealing his car's tires while driving from Clinton Street onto Elm Street in Lakeport at 9:42 p.m.
After finding the plates on the car didn't match the registration, police performed an inventory search and allegedly found just over an ounce of what they believed to be methamphetamine in the vehicle and $2,000 in cash on his person.
Dauphin allegedly told them he was coming from his auto repair shop, Gilford Auto Repair, at 1428 Lakeshore Road.
According to redacted affidavits obtained from the court, after applying for and getting a warrant, police from Laconia and Gilford searched Dauphin's home and business. Laconia police allegedly found approximately seven additional ounces of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $44,000 and an additional $11,000 in cash.
In his brief hearing before Judge Jim Carroll yesterday, Dauphin was represented by Public Defender Justin Littlefield.
Laconia Police Det. Sgt. Thomas Swett asked for $100,000 cash bail, citing the seriousness of the crime and the danger it poses to society.
Littlefield argued that Dauphin was born and raised in Laconia and was not likely to flee.
Littlefield agreed that some cash bail was warranted but said Dauphin owns a business, has two people who rent bays and depend on him for an income, and a child who depends upon his support payments. He said Dauphin had one misdemeanor drug conviction in 1996 and a resisting arrest conviction in 2012.
While Dauphin has a business partner, Littlefield said the partner doesn't run the shop and it could fail without him. He asked Carroll to consider allowing some kind of surety bond but was denied.
"This is one of the largest methamphetamine arrests I've ever seen," said Capt. Bill Clary, speaking yesterday to the magnitude of the arrest.
Clary said there was evidence of distribution – packaging materials and scales — found in the search of Dauphin's house but there was no evidence of methamphetamine manufacturing.
Gilford Police Sgt. Chris Jacques said yesterday that police also found less than an ounce of heroin and a small amount of marijuana in the shop. He said police seized some electronics as well. Jacques said there was no evidence of methamphetamine manufacturing in the shop.
According to affidavits, police were on routine patrol when Dauphin allegedly "burnt out" or squealed his tires. The officer driving tried to catch up to Dauphin and noted he continued onto Sheridan Street at a high rate of speed.
Police said they stopped the car at the corner of Sheridan and Appleton Streets. Dauphin's house is at that corner.
According to internal policy, police must conduct an inventory search on a car if it is to be towed. Police removed the plates and, while preparing for the tow, allegedly found a small, black bag underneath the driver's seat that contained what they thought may be methamphetamine. At that point police stopped the inventory search and got the search warrants.
In the home, said affidavits, police found the rest of the methamphetamine in the master bathroom in the ceiling tiles above the sink. They also found two bundles of cash. Several items of clothing were found in the master bathroom and bedroom belonging to Dauphin linking him to the bedroom.
Jacques said the heroin and the marijuana were allegedly found during the search warrant for the shop and the cars that were in the shop but declined to say exactly where police found them.
Affidavits from court said Gilford Police allegedly found stolen N.H. State Inspection stickers.
Both Jacques and Clary said the investigation is continuing and further charges against Dauphin may be forthcoming. Jacques said it didn't appear any charges against anyone else would be filed as far as the Gilford search goes.
One of the mechanics who rents space from Dauphin at Gilford Auto Service said yesterday that police "turned the place upside-down" during their search. He also said police went through every car on the lot and in the shop including those belonging to customers.
The mechanic said the business is still open, however Dauphin does most of the transmission work so a few customers have retrieved their cars to get the work done elsewhere.

New principal shares his vision for GHS

GILFORD – It's been a life-changing few weeks for newly-named High School Principal Anthony Sperazzo. Not only did he get a promotion but over the weekend he also got married.
"I guess you could say it's been a great couple of weeks for me," said the energetic Sperazzo as he took some time to talk about himself and his vision for Gilford High School.
Sperazzo never stops moving. His two computers are set high on his desk so that he never has to sit while he's working at them. His office is neat as a pin — something he said he's been teased about since he was a youth.
"I guess I'm a little over organized," he said.
He's also athletic. A former physical education teacher, he runs marathons, sails, skis, swims and said he participate in just about every athletic event he can.
Although he hails from Ayre, Mass., now he's all Gilford.
Sperazzo graduated from Plymouth State University 11 years ago with a degree in Physical Education. He did his student teaching at Gilford Elementary School, fell in love with the district and the town and was hired to be the Physical Education and Health teacher at the middle school.
He considers himself a lifelong learner and while teaching at the middle school he continued his studies at Plymouth State, earning his Masters in Education and his certification to be a superintendent, should he decide to take that route someday.
Four years ago he was tapped to be assistant principal of the high school and as of July 1, he'll take over as principal while Peter Sawyer assumes the role of principal at the middle school.
In his role as principal, Sperazzo plans on spending as much time as possible with the students in his charge.
"I believe every student has a story and it's our job to understand enough of that story to ensure he or she gets the right education," he said. "There are many things (that go on in their lives) that go beyond the four walls of this school."
Sperazzo said he is particularly proud of the improvement he's seen in the student culture at the high school in the past four years.
"As we will report in June (to the School Board) our disciplinary data has gotten much better," he said.
"We've given clear expectations about behavior and have seen students rise to meet those expectations," he said.
Sperazzo said students need structure and they need to be held accountable. Gilford High School has seen marked improvements on that front, he added.
As principal he said one of his main jobs is to continue to keep Gilford High School a good place to work.
"We have a great staff and great teachers," he said, noting teacher and staff morale is critical to student learning. "We want our staff to want to be here."
"We have strong professional development programs that are designed to help the teachers challenge students to think critically, invest in what their learning, and continue to be active learners," he said.
When asked his opinion on grade weighing – a topic of acute interest in Gilford these days – Sperazzo was quick not to be backed into a corner but said his overall take-away was how interested and invested parents were in their children's eduction.
"It's a three-pronged approach," he said, saying learning stems from parent support, well-qualified and talented educators and from the child him or herself.
"It's gotta come from inside, from personalizing education," Sperazzo said.
When asked how he was going the reach the parents who weren't at the recent meetings of the School Board and the Policy Committee, he said he wanted to start more community outreach – and reaching deeper and different students than those who are typically spotlighted by the community like those who participate in athletes, music, and theater. (Three disciplines Gilford High School consistently excels in statewide.)
He said there are Gilford students who are doing great and exciting work at the Huot Technical Center, at the Agricultural Program at the Winnisquam Regional High School, and online with computer classes.
"I'd like to see them get some recognition and publicity as well," he said.
Above all, Sperazzo wants to see the school continually demand its students think critically, think outside the box, and analyze data to come up with their own conclusions.
And while he spends his spring break on his honeymoon and his summer teaching sailing, he said he'll also be preparing for when the teachers and students return this fall for some more rigorous academics, challenging after-school programs and some fun while learning.