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Judge agrees to postpone Lafond trial to May 5

LACONIA — Following a hearing in Belknap County Superior Court on Tuesday, Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County Superior Court granted the request of Attorney Mark Sisti, who is defending Amy Lafond against charges that her reckless and negligent driving caused the death of one teenage girl and severely injured another, to postpone her trial.

Originally scheduled to begin with the selection of a jury on February 3, the trial will now begin on May 5.

O'Neill denied Sisti's first request to continue the trial, which was scheduled to begin with a final pre-trial conference on January 13 and selection of a jury on February 3. Sisti, who was retained as defense council on November 22, told the court he was scheduled to try cases in Merrimack County and Rockingham County in January and February. Belknap County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen assented to the request. However, O'Neill found the grounds insufficient.

Sisti asked the court to reconsider the denial, this time arguing that the schedule did not afford him enough time to either "relate competent advice to his client with regard to the decision whether to plead guilty (or) to proceed to trial — let alone represent her at trial." Referring to the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions, he concluded that "to go forward ensures the defendant deficient representation that will undoubtedly spur unnecessary litigation."

With about 15 members of Lilyanna Johnson's relatives and friends in the courtroom, Sisti amplified his arguments at the hearing on Tuesday. In terms of difficulty, Sisti described the case as an eight on a10-point scale, noting that it will take at least 100 hours to review the evidence in the case, much of which he described as technical in nature and posing "scientific challenges."
Guldbrandsen did not contest the request. "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."
When O'Neill asked her how the victims' families felt about an extension, Guldbrandsen said that they are "frustrated" and submitted a "memo of input from the victims' family regarding continuance expressing their desire that the trial go forward as soon as possible.
Lafond, 52, is charged with manslaughter and two counts of negligent homicide arising from an incident on April 19 when she allegedly drove into two teenage girls on Messer Street, killing Lilyanna Johnson and seriously injuring Allyssa Miner. She is also charged with several drug offenses and traffic violations.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 01:20

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Barnstead approaches Gilmanton about sharing some municipal services

GILMANTON — With the impending retirement of Barnstead Fire Chief Mark Tetreault, a representative from Barnstead's Selectboard came to town Monday night to explore the possibility of a regional approach to public safety

"Both our chiefs are retiring," James Barnard told the Gilmanton board, referring to retired Barnstead Police Chief Ken Borgia who left at the end of 2013 and Tetreault who is leaving to become the fire chief in Lynnfield, Mass. at the end of the month.

"Before we start replacing them, (we want to know) if you feel like sitting down and hashing this through," Barnard continued.

Gilmanton selectmen were interested but definitely non-committal.

"I can see some good points and some bad points," said Selectman Brett Currier, after Town Administrator Arthur Capella said bulk buying for diesel, oil, sand, and salt could benefit the bottom line in both communities.

"We have an ungodly amount of equipment," said Barnard, referring to the number of fire and police vehicles available to the Barnstead Public Safety department.

"We do too," said Currier.

In what he saw as a possible negative, Currier said that a regional or combined police and or fire department could increase the total number of employees to the levels that could allow for the formation of labor unions.

This is not the first time the Barnstead selectmen have addressed a regional approach to policing. In 2011, selectmen approached the town with a plan developed by Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin that would have put the responsibility for Barnstead's policing under the domain of the sheriff's department.

The plan called for a consolidation of usable equipment including vehicles, creating a sheriff's sub-station in the building used by the Barnstead Police Department, and incorporating existing Barnstead police officers into the county employments ranks.

The measure, which went to the voters in March in the form of an article on the annual town warrant was defeated by a margin of two-to-one.

Currier also said he would not be ready to discuss any potential cooperative agreement between Gilmanton and Barnstead without first having a conversation with the existing department heads. His desire to reach out to department heads was echoed by Selectmen Ralph Lavin and Don Guarino.

"We'll talk to our department heads," said Lavin, who said someone would get in touch with Barnard and the Barnstead selectmen.

Capella said the earliest that the town of Gilmanton could even consider such a proposal would be in 2015.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 12:54

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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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