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Archive for November, 2009

By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: lawNovember 11, 2009

CONCORD — Testimony ended Tuesday in the case of a Keene lawyer accused of lying to his paraplegic client and forcing her family to accept an insurance settlement so he could collect a large payment.

A hearing panel for the N.H. Supreme Court Attorney Discipline Office in Concord will decide whether Timothy A. O’Meara violated any rules of conduct in his dealings with the family of a Hampton woman whose spinal cord was severed in a May 2005 crash.

If the panel determines O’Meara violated any rules, it will decide what penalty he should face and make a recommendation to the Professional Conduct Committee. The panel and committee are both composed of lawyers and non-lawyers. Possible penalties O’Meara could face include reprimand, public censure, suspension or disbarment.

During the panel hearings, which began in October, disciplinary counsel Landya B. McCafferty presented the evidence against O’Meara, who was defended by Concord attorney Michael R. Callahan.

The family of Anita Conant hired O’Meara about a week after the crash that left her confined to a specialized wheelchair. Conant was attending her father’s funeral in Pennsylvania when a paving company’s dump truck slammed into the back of her car at about 55 mph while she was stopped at a red light.

The Conant family received $500,000 from the paving company, Lyons & Hohl Paving Inc., and $11 million from its insurer, The Cincinnati Insurance Companies. O’Meara wanted to collect at least $2 million in legal fees from the settlement, but the Conants contested his payment and a judge awarded him $1.6 million — the largest payment of his law career.

The settlement will not cover Conant’s daily medical expenses — it’s expected to cost more than $23 million to care for her during her lifetime, according to a certified life-care planner O’Meara hired while suing the paving company and its insurer.

O’Meara went after the $11.5 million settlement despite the life-care planner’s estimate for Conant so he could get paid quickly, McCafferty said.

Conant was positioned directly across the room from O’Meara during Tuesday’s hearing, watching him as he testified for about five hours, her ventilator unleashing an air-sucking whistle with each breath she took. Her husband, James, and their two sons, Sean and Todd, and daughter, Ashley, also attended the hearing.

The Conants say O’Meara settled their case without their authorization and pressured them to agree to pay him $2 million in legal fees at the last minute during a mediation hearing in Philadelphia. They also say he threatened to sue them for a third of any settlement they received and lied during testimony about his handling of the case after they contested his fees.

O’Meara contends that he had the authority to request an offer from the paving company, but not accept it. He says he never finalized the offer, which the Conants initially rejected but later accepted after hiring a new attorney. The Conants said they felt they had no other choice but to take the offer because of O’Meara’s dealings.

As for threatening to sue the Conants, O’Meara said he only mentioned during an emotionally charged meeting at their house months before the case was settled that litigation would be an option if they fired him. He denied making any threats.

The contract the Conants signed with O’Meara gave them the right to fire him at any time and pay him and other employees at his firm who worked on their case $275 per hour, McCafferty said.

But no one at O’Meara’s firm kept track of the hours that went into the Conants’ case, and O’Meara never told the Conants they could easily fire him because he knew he’d have trouble collecting any fees, McCafferty said.

O’Meara is also accused of backdating a letter to Robert Davis, an attorney for The Cincinnati Insurance Companies.

The letter notified Davis that the Conants were unwilling to accept the $11 million insurance settlement. It was written the same day Davis accepted O’Meara’s offer to settle the case for that amount, but dated four days earlier, McCafferty said.

O’Meara said the erroneous date on the letter was an innocent mistake.

This is not the first time O’Meara has been accused of changing the date on an official document, McCafferty said during Tuesday’s hearing.

In 2003, he was disciplined for lying to a judge about having the wrong date on a document he filed with the court while representing himself in a divorce and child custody case.

The conduct committee publicly censured O’Meara rather than suspending or disbarring him because he’d maintained a clean disciplinary record since joining the state bar in 1993.

While attending law school at Franklin Pierce University, O’Meara was suspended for a semester for cheating on a group project. He said he was the first person in his group to admit to cheating because he felt guilty.

The hearing panel is expected to decide by mid-December whether O’Meara violated any rules while representing the Conants.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: November 10, 2009
Constance and Guido Boldini

Constance and Guido Boldini

In a tragic twist, the intended victim of a foiled murder-for-hire plot hatched by a Hancock mother and son has died.

Michelle L. Hudon, 37, lost her battle with cancer Sept. 3, according to an obituary. Her ex-boyfriend Guido Boldini and his mother, Constance, were in N.H. State Prison when Hudon died. A year earlier, they were meeting with an undercover officer posing as a hit man, arranging to have Hudon killed.

Guido Boldini, 43, wanted Hudon dead because they were involved in a custody battle over their 4-year-old boy, according to testimony during his sentencing hearing in April.

Constance Boldini, 76, solicited the hit man — she walked into Gino’s Bar & Grill on Court Street in Keene and told the owner, Gino C. Mola, that she “understood he was a man who could get things done,” Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed said during her sentencing hearing in May.

Mola contacted Keene police and agreed to let them record his phone conversations with the Boldinis and set up surveillance at his business. The police had an undercover officer act as a hit man and meet with the Boldinis. They also warned Hudon about the plot.

Hudon told police and prosecutors she was leaving Guido Boldini because he was “controlling” and “domineering,” Heed said. Guido Boldini also easily manipulated Constance Boldini, Heed said.

While sitting inside a vehicle parked outside Gino’s and wired with audio and video surveillance, the Boldinis hashed out a deal with the fake hit man: They would pay him $10,000 to kill Hudon and give him what they had in their pockets, $100, as a down payment, according to Heed.

The Boldinis were arrested when they stepped out of the vehicle.

Guido Boldini pleaded guilty to criminal solicitation to commit murder in April and was sentenced to eight to 20 years in N.H. State Prison. Constance Boldini pleaded guilty to the same charge in May and was sentenced to 4 1/2 to 15 years in prison.

Hudon’s parents, Richard and Arlene, of Merrimack, are fighting for custody of the child she had with Guido Boldini and declined comment until the dispute is resolved.

Hudon also had two older sons, Bryan and Gregory, who are living in Merrimack, according to the obituary.

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Con Man Pleads Guilty

By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel:  November 07, 2009

The charismatic convicted felon who conned a pair of Chesterfield business owners while posing as a U.S. marshal was sent to prison Thursday.

Wearing a charcoal blazer and blue jeans, a shackled John P. Baldasaro, 46, pleaded guilty in Cheshire County Superior Court to two felony-level counts of theft by deception. He’d vowed months earlier to take the case to trial and represent himself.

Judge John P. Arnold accepted the deal Baldasaro and his attorney, Michael D. Hulser of Acworth, reached with prosecutors and handed down two concurrent sentences of six to 12 years in N.H. State Prison.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dismissed two counts of kidnapping and one count of robbery.

If Baldasaro had gone to trial and was convicted on all five counts, he could have faced 60 years in prison, Hulser said after the hearing.

Hulser said he has also negotiated a plea deal for Baldasaro in Maine, where he is accused of stealing a vehicle from a dealership and duping a family out of $7,000 in a bogus investment scheme.

The Maine negotiation calls for a shorter sentence than the N.H. State Prison sentence and will be served concurrently with the New Hampshire sentence, he said.

Meanwhile, Baldasaro faces a federal parole violation charge in Vermont that could keep him in prison for another 12 years. By pleading guilty to the theft charges, Baldasaro effectively admitted to violating parole.

“The Vermont Parole Board will not say what they’re going to do,” Hulser said.

The parole violation stems from a conviction for kidnapping and robbery in White River Junction, Vt. Baldasaro spent 12 years in federal prison, where he married his wife, Vanessa, who works at a law firm in Boston. He was released in September 2008.

Hulser said he hasn’t heard from authorities in Massachusetts, where Baldasaro is accused of impersonating a federal agent and robbing a man at gunpoint. He also hasn’t received word from the federal authorities who are building an impersonation case against Baldasaro.

In Chesterfield, Baldasaro conned Fayyaz Awan, owner of Khyber Convenience Store, and Paul Saba, owner of Big Deal, out of more than $10,860 on May 11, according to court documents.

Baldasaro flashed what appeared to be a holstered gun and U.S. Marshals badge, told Awan and Saba he was investigating a counterfeit cash operation, and took money from both stores before emptying Awan’s bank account, prosecutors said.

Baldasaro told Awan and Saba the money he took was counterfeit, police said. He acted like he was scanning the bills with a laptop computer to determine whether they were legitimate, Saba said in an interview shortly after the incident.

Chesterfield police spent dozens of hours investigating the scheme alongside the U.S. Marshals Office, and Chief Lester C. Fairbanks said it was gratifying to see the case come full circle.

“It’s just nice to see everything fall into place,” he said. “None of us would have gotten here without the U.S. Marshals. That was just a huge stroke of luck that he picked the wrong agency to mess with.”

During the plea and sentencing hearing, Baldasaro spoke only to answer the judge or confer with Hulser. But he was outspoken during a jailhouse interview with The Sentinel in June, when he said he wanted to represent himself during trial and take on Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed.

“John speaks spontaneously very often,” Hulser said outside the courtroom. “I think he would like to retract those statements upon reflection.”

Baldasaro also made “very incriminating” statements to detectives after he was arrested at a Manhattan hotel several days after the Chesterfield incident, Hulser said.

Hulser said he would have tried to prevent jurors from hearing those statements if he was unable to negotiate a plea deal with Heed and Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Keith W. Clouatre.

If the case had gone to trial, Hulser planned to argue that Awan and Saba were acquainted with Baldasaro before he stole from them. He said they owed Baldasaro money, but would not disclose the nature of the debt.

Heed dismissed Hulser’s theory as “baseless” and said Awan and Saba were on board with the plea negotiation, which saved taxpayers the expense of a trial.

“We also don’t want New Hampshire taxpayers to pay for his whole incarceration,” he said. “He has a lot of sentences he can serve” in other states.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: November 03, 2009

A Vermont man has filed a right-to-know lawsuit against the city of Keene that could affect the way public records requests are answered across the state.

Wallace S. Nolen of Barre, Vt., presented his case Monday in Cheshire County Superior Court. He wants an electronic document containing the names, titles, salaries, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and work locations of every city employee.

The city has already provided paperwork containing that information to Nolen, with the exception of work locations for each employee, because no such record exists and the city is not required to create one, according to City Attorney Thomas P. Mullins.

The city was not even required by state law to comply with Nolen’s request because he is not a New Hampshire resident, Mullins said.

He said the city has already gone “above and beyond” by giving Nolen paperwork with the employee information he requested, and should not be required to provide it again in electronic form, he said.

But Nolen said he doesn’t want paperwork. He wants the information to be provided on a CD or e-mailed to him so he can easily plug it into a massive database he’s building. The database contains employee information from tens of thousands of municipalities in 30 states, including much of New England, he said.

Nolen is building the database in preparation for a class-action lawsuit aimed at overhauling unclaimed property laws. He wants banks and state treasurers to be more diligent in helping people claim lost assets.

Nolen is gathering the employee information because he says states consistently fail to notify not only residents but their own employees of unclaimed property to which they are entitled.

Nolen said he was spurred to action after being deprived of funds in his deceased father’s bank account because of flaws in the laws.

Because the city of Keene has refused to provide employee information electronically, Nolen said he must manually enter the information into his database, which will take too much time.

Nolen also wants the city to be required to answer right-to-know requests sent by e-mail.

The city typically requires requests to be submitted in writing and dropped off at the City Clerk’s office or mailed.

Communicating via e-mail will streamline the process, make it more environmentally friendly and save the city money in printing and paper costs, Nolen argued.

“In today’s day and age, things should be sent electronically,” he said. “Are you telling me that if I want something from Los Angeles, I have to drive all the way to Los Angeles?”

The city should not be forced to answer right-to-know requests via e-mail, Mullins said. The clerk’s office, which handles the requests, would become inundated with frivolous public records demands and unable to function, he said.

“If we have to do that, the city is going to be placed in a very difficult situation,” he said. “We could be receiving potentially thousands of e-mails.”

The N.H. Supreme Court has never addressed the transmittal of information tied to a public records request, according to Mullins.

“I haven’t seen a case on it,” he said, “and I’ve definitely been looking.”

In a separate right-to-know issue, Nolen has requested any evidence in the case of David Ridley, an activist and videographer from Grafton. Ridley was arrested in March at Keene District Court when he refused to turn off his camera in the court’s lobby.

The Keene Police Department initially refused Nolen’s request, saying the Ridley case was an open investigation and therefore exempt from public record.

But after contacting Mullins, the department acknowledged that certain information could be released.

Mullins said he provided Nolen with paperwork containing basic details in Ridley’s arrest, but Nolen demanded any audio or video evidence the authorities may have from the courthouse incident. That evidence does not exist, Mullins said.

Judge John P. Arnold is reviewing both prongs of Nolen’s right-to-know lawsuit. He is expected to render a decision in a matter of weeks.

During the hearing, Mullins accused Nolen of verbally abusing city employees over the course of his right-to-know requests — the first was filed in March. He said Nolen’s lawsuit is baseless and constitutes harassment.

If Arnold determines the lawsuit is harassment, he could order Nolen to pay the city for legal fees it incurred in fighting the suit.

Nolen is also seeking compensation for legal fees. He has accused city employees of stonewalling him.

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