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Judge says Billy Baer's conduct at Gilford School Board meeting was 'impolite' but not 'criminal'

CIRCUIT COURT — Fourth Circuit Court Judge Jim Carroll has dismissed all three criminal charges against a Gilford man who was arrested during a Gilford School Board meeting in May of 2014.

Carroll determined that "there is a paucity of facts from what a reasonable trier of fact could find the defendant (William Baer) guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

"The court finds the defendant's actions impolite but not criminal," wrote Carroll.

Baer had been charged with two counts of breaching the peace and one count of disobeying a police officer for his actions at a school board meeting where he went to protest a reading assignment given by the school to his freshman-class daughter.

During the meeting, Baer didn't necessarily abide by the rules set by school board, which were to direct comments only to the board, not to solicit any responses from them and not exceed a two-minute comment rule.

During his two minutes, he requested the board chair to read aloud the passage he found offensive in Jodi Picoult's novel, "Nineteen Minutes." The scene described forced sex involving two teens.

When board Chair Sue Allen refused to honor his request, he sat down but then loudly interrupted after the following speaker referring to an effort at censorship.

At the point where he kept speaking as the chair attempted to recognize someone else, Gilford Police Lt. Jim Leach asked Baer to leave the room. When he declined the invitation, Lynch made it clear he had no choice and Baer followed the officer out, was handcuffed in the hallway and taken to the Gilford Police Station for processing.

His arrest was recorded by the school and at least one independent videographer. At last four members of the main-stream print media also witnessed the arrest.

For a brief period of time immediately following his arrest, Baer became a media sensation, drawing the attention of news outlets as diverse as the Huffington Post and Fox News. A number of independent local venues like Granite Grok and local radio show The Advocates rallied audiences in Baer's defense.

During his arrest, Baer, himself a retired attorney, noted the irony of his situation in light of a students civics project that was being presented in Washington later that year by saying local law enforcement was being used to silence him. Baer called it a "opposite" civics lesson.

The irony of Baer's situation was not lost on Judge Carroll.

"The court finds that this case is, notwithstanding the cynicism of the defendant, an excellent "civics" lesson, a perfect case for modeling free speech guarantees," Carroll wrote.

Carroll wrote that the state may, under a variety of situations, restrict an individual citizen's freedom of expression and the courts have maintained that "time, place, and manner" restrictions are valid.

He wrote that the courts have held that "fighting words" are not an acceptable exercise of free speech, "but the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done."

He noted that in school board Chair Sue Allen's deposition, she said she desired Leach's intervention but her goal was not Baer's arrest. She also said that the meeting was not disrupted and there were no citizens complaints about him at the meeting.

Carroll also noted that in Leach's deposition, he said Baer allowed himself to be arrested leading Carroll to conclude there wasn't any breach of the peace. He also said there was insufficient evidence that Baer knowingly refused to comply with Leach.

Carroll said that from time to time, in meetings and in court for that matter, people will occasionally be disruptive but the disruptiveness should not be cause for an arrest in the first place.

"The sequence of the arrest actions cause pause by the court as to the chilling, if not silencing of a citizen by the state for actions which do not warrant a criminal arrest or conviction."

Baer was represented by attorney Mark Sisti, who said yesterday that Carroll's ruling was exactly what they requested in their motions to dismiss the charges.

"I'm not surprised but I certainly am grateful," he said.

"We're happy. We're glad it's over and it was a long, strange trip," Sisti said.



Last Updated on Friday, 19 December 2014 02:51

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Gilford Selectboard raises fee charged to private trash haulers from $30 to $45 per ton

GILFORD — Following a public hearing that no one attended, selectmen voted unanimously last night to raise the disposal fees collected for solid waste from $30 per ton to $45 per ton.

The new rate affects the price private trash haulers will pay for bringing Gilford generated household refuse to the Laconia Transfer Station.

The town of Gilford does not have a transfer station and does not provide municipal pickup for household waste. Residents either take their own trash to Laconia or pay a private hauler to take it for them.

The cost for individual residents to take their own trash to Laconia remains unchanged at $5 per load that is 100 pounds or less.

Scott Dunn said the uptick in the disposal fee should save about $75,000 annually from the municipal budget which offsets a portion of the tipping fees charged by Waste Management to transport it and incinerate it.

Right now, tipping fees — or the cost of transporting household waste from Laconia and incinerating it in Penacook — is $66.80 per ton. Dunn said he expects the tipping fees to increase to at least $70 in 2015.

The increase approved last night represents a shift in the municipal cost of subsidizing trash disposal.

A similar measure met with strong resistance in 2013 from some residents who said household waste collection is a function of government and should be paid for through taxation.

Their fear was that the private haulers would use the rate increase to increase the rates they charge individual residents that would ultimately cost residents more money in the long run.

In other action, selectmen voted to add stop signs at three intersections in Gunstock Acres. The stop signs will be added to  the intersection of Sagamore Road and Silver Street and at both of the intersections where Ryswick Street intersects Sagamore Road.

Two residents spoke at the public hearing held before the vote and both agreed with the signs. Both residents also said there were other places in Gunstock Acres that could use stop and yield signs and selectmen said the Police and Public Works Departments would be looking into it further.


Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 02:47

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Prospective Eagle Scout working with LPD to highlight drug-free school zones

LACONIA — The police have enlisted volunteers in their effort to curb the trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs in the city. Christian Ayre, a junior at Gilford High School, will lead a team of students to rally residents living within drug-free school zones to rid their neighborhoods of drugs, all in the course of qualifying as an Eagle Scout.

Detective Sergeant Tom Swett said that for the past four years the Police Department has pursued a "Problem Oriented Policing (POP) project aimed at reducing substance abuse, but has yet to target the drug-free school zones. He said that the zones. which include the five public schools as well as private and parochial schools, have been thoroughly mapped and there are between 1,700 and 2,100l street addresses within 1,000 feet of a school.

Swett explained that flyers, designed to hang from doorknobs, have been printed advising residents that they live within a drug-free zone where drug offenses carry enhanced penalties. The flyers urge residents to report suspicious activity to the Laconia Police Department.

Ayre, from Troop 366 based at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints in Laconia, said that Master Patrol Officer Steve Orton, the school resource officer, approached him about assembling a group to distribute the flyers. "It sounded like a great project," he said, confessing "I was a little intimidated by the short amount of time we have to complete it."

Ayre recruited a team and designed routes. He said that on Saturday his team will hit the streets, hoping to reach every residence by the end of the day. ""It is a service project that benefits the community," Ayre said. "It raises awareness about the drug-free zones and encourages people to be aware of the problems with drugs."

Swett said that the project is also intended to empower people to take their neighborhoods back," explaining that "we can't do it alone, by ourselves, without support and help from the public."


CAPTION: Christian Ayre, an aspiring Eagle Scout from Gilford and Laconia Police Detective Sergeant Tom Swett have partnered in an initiative to encourage residents of drug-free school zones throughout the city to assist the police in their effort to reduce drug abuse by reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch).

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 02:39

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Belknap Convention will follow open process in selecting new county commissioner

LACONIA — Belknap County Convention chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) says that the convention will follow an open process in seeking to fill the vacancy on the Belknap County Commission, which is being created by the mid-term resignation of Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith)
Citing differences with newly-elected members of the commission, Nedeau resigned effective January 1 at a meeting of the commission last week. Choice of Need's successor will be up to the convention, which under state law 661, section 661:9, is empowered to fill vacancies on county commissions.
The law reads: "II. (a) If a vacancy occurs in the office of a county commissioner, the members of the county convention shall fill the vacancy by majority vote until the next biennial election of county officers. If the term filled is less than the unexpired term, then notwithstanding any provisions of RSA 653:1, VI, the commissioner district filled pursuant to this paragraph shall be added to the next biennial election ballot to be chosen by the voters of the county for a 2-year term.''
Nedeau, who was first elected to the commission for a two-year term in 2010 and elected to a four-year term in 2012, had two years left in his current term. He represents District 3, which includes the towns of Alton, Center Harbor, Gilford and Meredith. His successor will have to be a resident of one of those towns.
Tilton said the convention will decide what process to follow when it meets in January. ''We'll advertise for candidates and set a deadline for them to apply and conduct open interviews with them before making a decision.''
He said that the convention will decide if it wants to have the entire convention involved in the interview process or whether it wants a committee to handle that part of the process. In either case interviews with applicants will be conducted in open sessions he said.
Nedeau had served as chairman of the county convention when it hired Craig Wigeon as sheriff in 2007 to replace Dan Collies. The procedure was challenged by activists Doug Lambert and Tom Taridif because the votes were not taken in public and they won a court decision which forced the county to have recorded public votes by convention members.
The procedure used by the convention will be required to meet the public vote standard set by the state Supreme Court in the Lambert-Tardif ruling.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 02:33

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