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LaFond's attorney makes second arguement for more time - 430

LACONIA — Amy Lafond's attorney, Mark Sisti, yesterday argued in favor of her request yesterday for a 90-day extension to give him time to prepare for her defense at trial.

With about 15 members of Lilyanna Johnson's family and friends in the courtroom, Sisti asked Judge James O'Neill III to reconsider his previous ruling that scheduled jury selection for February 2.

"I can't give her any professional advice at this point," Sisti said, appealing directly to O'Neill as a judge who is also a former trial lawyer who has been involved with similar complex cases.

Sisti was hired in the beginning of December. In his first motion for an extension, he said he had a scheduling conflict with a different case. O'Neill ruled that wasn't enough for him to grant Sisti an extension under the new rules on extensions issued by Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau.

In terms of difficulty, Sisti described the case as an "8" out of "10", saying there are at least 100 hours of recorded evidence, accident reconstruction reports, as well as additional preparation time needed. He also said he may need to secure expert witness testimony.

Lafond faces numerous charges, including one count each of negligent and reckless homicide stemming from a car crash in April at the Messer Street bridge that claimed the life of 14-year-old Johnson and severely injured 14-year-old Allyssa Miner, both students at the nearby Middle School.

Belknap County Prosecutor Melissa C. Guldbrandsen said she wouldn't object to a 90-day extension.

"I do see my duty to ensure she gets a competent defense," said Guldbrandsen, agreeing that the case is complex and technical. "It's my duty to see she gets a fair trial."

She also said she wouldn't want to have a possible conviction challenged because of claim that Lafond was denied effective counsel.

When O'Neill asked her how the victims' families felt about an extension, Guldbrandsen said that they are "frustrated" and don't support any delays.

She said that in their minds, the incident occurred in April of 2012 and they are growing impatient.

She said that when Lafond was represented by the Public Defender's Office she was aware they were also likely to seek an extension.

Sisti assured O'Neill he would be ready in April to try the case, as did Guldbrandsen.

After yesterday's hearing, Guldbrandsen met briefly with the people who came to court to hear the oral argument. A few members of the family said they hadn't designated an official spokesperson and had no comments for the media at this time.

O'Neill is expected to rule on Sisti motion for reconsideration on Wednesday.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 12:47

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Additional 28 county employees seeking to form union

LACONIA — With a handful of exceptions, the full-time Belknap County employees who are neither members of a union nor heads of departments, have petitioned the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) to form a collective bargaining unit represented by the Teamsters Local Union 633 headquartered in Manchester.

Neither Roger Travers, the representative of the Teamsters, nor any county employee was available to comment on the circumstances that led to the decision to organize and petition the PELRB. However, the effort by the Belknap County Convention to strip employees of contractual bonuses and increase their share of health insurance premiums in the last budget cycle in widely believed to have aroused anxiety among non-union employees, whose compensation and benefits mirror those of their colleagues belong to collective bargaining units.

The proposed membership would consist of 28 employees, described as "support staff," from eight different departments. If the effort to organize succeeds, more than 150 of the 169 full-time county employees would belong to collective bargaining units, leaving only those ineligible for union membership — 10 department heads and a handful of mid-level managers at the nursing home — unrepresented. Employees in the Corrections Department, Sheriff's Department and Nursing Home are represented by the State Employees Association (SEA).

The 28 chose to affiliate with the Teamsters because some of them are excluded from the SEA because they supervise employees of the Corrections Department, Sheriff's Department and Nursing Home who are represented by the SEA. The statute governing collective bargaining units among public employees stipulates that "persons exercising supervisory authority involving the significant exercise of discretion may not belong to the same bargaining unit as the employees they supervise."

The collective bargaining unit must be certified by the PELRB. The Belknap County Commission, as the public employer, may challenge the membership of the proposed collective bargaining unit.

The membership would include six employees from the County Attorney's Office — the deputy county attorney, assistant county attorney, legal assistant, victim assistance advocate, legal secretary and office manager. There would be five from the Corrections Department — the deputy superintendent, community corrections officer, program director licensed practical nurse and registered nurse, and administrative assistant — another five from the nursing home — the billing coordinator, medical records coder, nursing unit clerk and administrative assistant. .

The bargaining unit would also include four employees from the Registry of Deeds — the deputy registrar, coding clerk, account clerk and indexing supervisor — and three from the Finance Department — the assistant director, purchasing coordinator and bookkeeper. two of the Sheriff's Department — a lieutenant and administrative assistant The balance of the membership would consist of two custodians and the administrative assistant to the county commission.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 12:38

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Ever increasing length of inmate stays could mean jail size planning target is too low

LACONIA — Members of the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee were told last night by Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward that a 20 percent increase in the length of time spent behind bars by prisoners is calling into question projections that a 180-inmate facility would be large enough meet the future correctional needs of the county.
''We were up from an average stay of 25 days in 2012 to 32 days this past year. And the average length of stay has gone up for 16 straight years,'' Ward told the committee, pointing out the major effect the court system has on how the jail is managed.
Ward, Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin and Jail Planning Committee Chairman and Belknap County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) said that the projections of the so-called Bennett Report, which called for a community corrections approach in which programs would be provided which would reduce recidivism, were based on numbers which may prove to have been too conservative.
''That means we may be planning for a project which will be too small,'' Philpot observed.
Ward said that the jail is holding more people charged with serious crimes, such as armed robbery, manufacturing crystal meth and serial burglaries and that pre-trial confinement contributes to the jail's space problems.
He said that one frustrating factor for him in keeping inmates in jail for long periods of time is the lack of supervisory personnel for electronic monitoring of those who might qualify for supervised release.
''We can only monitor released inmates 14 at a time. That means those who qualify and are serving 12-month sentences have to sit in jail and wait in line until they rise high enough on the list to be able to qualify. And they pay for the costs of that electronic monitoring themselves,'' he pointed out.
He said that the county has had some successes with programs such as one on parenting skills which 27 inmates have taken and there has been no recidivism and another in which nearly 100 inmates have earned a high school diploma and recidivism has dropped sharply.
''We've had success in putting out little fires and can do better if we can offer programs to more people,'' said Ward.
The committee rejected by an overwhelming show of hands a motion made by Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) to suspend the committee's work for an indefinite span of time in light of recent criticism of its efforts by members of the Laconia City Council and other local officials in the county.
Committee members urged development of an informational campaign to get the word out to the public about the extent of the jail's problems and how the lack of action is making matters worse and more costly for taxpayers.
At its next meeting on January 21 the committee will revisit a proposal to seek a $3.5 million bond issue from the County Convention this year for temporary steps to deal with crowding issues at the county jail.
The bond issue would include a 48-bed temporary housing unit, which would cost $1,584,681 for a three-year contract; $500,000 for a schematic design for a new facility and $1 million for replacing the HVAC system at the current jail.
Ward said recently that there are currently 140 inmates in the facility, which is designed for 120, and that the 17 women inmates are housed in the gymnasium, which keeps that part of the facility from being used for recreation during the months when outside recreation is limited.
''We've been sending upwards of 30 people away (to facilities in other counties) during recent months. If we install a temporary facility we get all of the prisoners back and get the use of the gymnasium back as well as have some program space,'' Ward told the committee at a recent meeting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 02:21

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School Baord will study all fundraising done in association with school activities

LACONIA — The School Board last night unanimously adopted a slightly revised policy on fund-raising activity with the caveat that the Policy Committee and the administration will conduct a review of all club money raising activities and accounts beginning in February.

In an Policy Committee meeting held an hour before the full board meeting, members said they would like to know more about who is raising money in the name of the schools and who is keeping track of the money once raised.

All Policy Committee members agreed that the pool of available money — both from the school budget and from private donors for extra-curricular activities has dwindled while the number of clubs and organizations seeking money has grown.

"It would be nice to know how many are asking for donations as opposed to selling stuff," said member Beth Arsenault.

Specifically, the new policy replaces one that expressly forbade the use of raffles and other games of chance. The old policy has been in place since 1972 and members of the current School Board and administration have no idea why raffles had been prohibited.

A need for a review of fund-raising activity within the district came to light last summer when members of the Capital Campaign Committee promised Laconia Youth Football the concession stand revenue at home football games in exchange for a donation to the campaign.

The objections arose when members of the Kiwanis Club — the adult sponsors of the LHS Key Club — cried foul when they learned they would no longer be staffing the Friday night concession stand as they had for many, many years. It was, contended members of the Kiwanis Club, the students' biggest source of income.

The policy said then and continues to say now that the building principal must approve any fund-raising activity.

While concession stand issue has been settled, some members of the board, led by at-large member Mike Perssons, questioned how much fund-raising activity there is in the schools and whether or not there is real need for it.

His primary concern, one that was echoed by other members, is how much is being raised for each activity, who is keeping track of the money, and what happens to it should the fundraiser exceed its goal or fall short of its goal.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 02:04

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