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Court rules against town for failing to act on pistol permit

Union Leader Correspondent

April 09. 2012 10:41PM

A Rockingham County Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of a Newton resident who sued the town and the chief of police for failing to respond to his application for a license to carry a concealed pistol.

Judge Kenneth McHugh has ordered police chief Lawrence Streeter and the town to issue a license to carry a concealed pistol to Robert J. Ferrara, and to pay Ferrara's attorney fees. McHugh also denied a motion for reconsideration from Streeter and the town.

'It's good that people know about this case, and the law, so that other chiefs won't do the same thing,' said attorney Evan F. Nappen, who represented Ferrara.

According to Nappen, Ferrara applied for a license but never received a response from Streeter. New Hampshire law requires a police chief to either approve or deny a license application within 14 days. Any denials must be written and delivered to the applicant.

Ferrara repeatedly called and stopped at the Newton Police Station to talk to Streeter but was unable to get an answer or any information about his application. After 73 days, Ferrara filed his suit in superior court.

'If there's a denial of an application, then you can go to district court and argue it out,' said Nappen, who added generally, that's the process for a chief of police who has a concern about a license application. Ferrara met all eligibility requirements for a license to carry a concealed pistol.

'But if a chief doesn't follow the law, then the option is to go to superior court and sue the chief and the town,' said Nappen.

Ferrara did exactly that, but on March 14, the day his suit was scheduled to be heard, neither Streeter nor anyone representing the town showed up in court.

'The judge asked me, 'Where's your opposition?'' said Nappen, who had no explanation for why Streeter was a no show. 'So we won.'

Trisha McCarthy, chairman of the Newton Board of Selectmen, said there were no personal conflicts or issues involved in the case. McCarthy said what happened was a 'procedural error' and when mistakes are made, complaints can be filed, and plaintiffs can prevail, as Ferrara did.

Nappen said the town's subsequent motion for reconsideration included a memo from Streeter saying he had 'completely overlooked' the order to appear in court to answer Ferrara's lawsuit. McHugh denied that request for reconsideration on April 3, and Nappen said Ferrara has since picked up his license.

One question that remains is whether Streeter or the taxpayers of Newton will pick up the bill for Ferrara's legal costs. According to state law, an issuing authority, which for a license to carry a concealed pistol is typically the local chief of police, may be held personally responsible for violating the state laws on licensing. However, because Ferrara's lawsuit included the town of Newton, the town may also responsible for the legal fees.

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