Sheriff clarifies that Gilmanton candidate was not arrested last year as result of civil suit
By DAVID CARKHUFF/LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILMANTON — Donald Guarino, the selectman's candidate who was arrested on Feb. 15 over his failure to appear in court over a civil case, pushed back on Wednesday, insisting he's staying in the race and pointing out that he did not get arrested last year as previously reported.
On Feb. 15, Donald Guarino was arrested as he turned himself in with the sheriff's office, according to initial information from the Belknap County Sheriff's Office. The initial report stated that Guarino was arrested twice last year on the same small claims charge, both times for failure to appear. But on Wednesday, Sheriff Michael Moyer confirmed that Guarino was not actually arrested in those two previous instances, although warrants for his arrest were issued.
"The only time we've arrested him pertaining to this case was Feb. 15 on the civil warrant with $1,000 bail," Moyer said.
"There were two other warrants issued, but they were vacated. Mr. Guarino is correct, he was never arrested for those two. Somehow he got them vacated," Moyer said.
"I haven't been arrested three times on this," Guarino said Wednesday, arguing this element of the story cast him in a far more negative light. The arrest stemmed from a civil case out of Concord.
Rick Watrous, a former legislator who lives with his wife in Concord, said he hired Guarino as a contractor in November 2013 to work on the couple's sunroom and to shore up the foundation, but that much of the work remained uncompleted. In 2015, Watrous won in small claims court. The court ruled that Guarino failed to fulfill the contract. That's when the trouble really started for Guarino.
Guarino said the 6th District Court sent electronic notifications of his court dates, but he said he didn't receive these email messages.
"This is all done electronically out of the 6th District Court, everything is electronic, it's a no-paper system, and I'm not savvy like some people. I missed a court date. Once I realized I had missed it, and I received the call from the Belknap County Sheriff's Department, I went up there and I took care of it," he said.
Guarino said he submitted motions to vacate, which were granted. "I had no reason not to appear," he said.
The notion of outstanding warrants for his arrest struck him as absurd.
"I'm not driving around eluding police," Guarino said.
But when he was arrested last month after a third missed court appointment, Guarino said he took responsibility.
"On the last court date, It was absolutely my fault, so when the Belknap County Sheriff's Department called me, I went up there," Guarino said.
Guarino said he is considering an appeal of the July 29, 2015, decision of Judge Kristin Spath, who found Guarino guilty of breach of contract.
Time ran out on his hearing, Guarino said, a procedural issue that could form the basis of an appeal.
Guarino said Judge Spath was looking at the clock at the time that Watrous was making his closing arguments, and "she said, 'I've heard enough.' I never had the opportunity to submit my closing arguments."
Guarino said he understands he can't appeal the judge's decision based on the outcome, but he felt unfairly treated. "I actually felt she should have continued the case to the following day," he said.
"I have considered an appeal," he said, calling the resolution "deficient."
"All of these things have been difficult on my end," Guarino said.
The former Gilmanton selectman ran afoul of the law as a selectman in late 2014. He pleaded guilty Dec. 4, 2014, in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, to a violation level charge of forging a vehicle inspection sticker.
Guarino said he will not withdraw from the March 14 election, despite these past incidents.
"I'm not stepping out of the race. I made a stupid mistake a number of years ago, I scraped a sticker off one pickup truck and placed it on another. I apologized, I paid the fine. It was a total lack of judgment. This is a whole different deal, it's a civil case. I actually think the customer received a value."
Guarino said he's proud that he preserved a tile floor while jacking up a floor for a new foundation, and he repaired a post in the corner supporting the header. "I never billed for any extra work," he said.
Calling the civil suit a "terrible situation," Guarino said he recognized the impasse. "I didn't believe that we could work through it," he said.
"Because of the fact that the relationship had deteriorated, I thought it was mutually agreed that we were done. And I said he could have the funds that were left to purchase the windows and finish the siding."
Other aspects of the job, such as a spray-foam insulation addition, showed professionalism, Guarino said, as he defended his workmanship. And he said his billing was reasonable.
"I do all the labor, I buy all the shingles. You bring all that in at $6,000, all the additional work, on a job that I think the total price tag was in the vicinity of $12,000," Guarino said. "It's just unfortunate."
Asked if a pending May 4 failure-to-appear hearing in the Concord District Court and his required payment of the court-ordered restitution would end the matter for him, Guarino hedged.
"It depends upon the appeal process. If the appeal won't be heard for some technical reason — which I haven't filed the appeal — then I'll close this out," he said.
Guarino said people are emailing him with expressions of support, and two people have offered to help him pay off his restitution.
Asked why the news of his Feb. 15 arrest came out right before the March 14 election, Guarino laughed.
"This is all about the election. This reflects national stuff. It's small town politics at its finest," he said.
Guarino took issue with his opponent, incumbent Selectman Marshall Bishop, for saying Guarino is a "nice person" but someone, under the circumstances, who should step down from the race.
"I think it's really important to realize that this conflict that Marshall Bishop is having with the town of Gilmanton is costing the taxpayers," Guarino said, referring to ongoing litigation over site-plan approval for Bishop's business, Gilmanton Winery. Guarino said the lawsuit has cost the town $4,431. "This conflict is costing us," he said.
"I'm totally committed to the town, I'm head of the Fourth of July Association, I've had previous experience as a selectman, multiple terms as a selectman. I'm in the Academy. My name is on a plaque in the Academy, one of the original members of the Academy Restoration Committee," Guarino said.
"I think Marshall Bishop is a nice person, and I think it's a shame that he's suing the town of Gilmanton, and I think he should step down," he said.
Bishop, in a selectmen's candidate statement, said, "It's not about me. It's about the board because we make a decision as one. So it's not about me. It's about what we as the board can do for the town."
Selectman Marshall Bishop at a recent meeting of the board in Gilmanton. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
Gilmanton selectman's candidate Don Guarino said he still enjoys community support. Here, signs for his election are located along Route 107. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
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