GOFFSTOWN — An election violations case against Weare Police Chief Gregory Begin has been dismissed by Judge Edward Gordon on a technicality, but in his order Gordon admonished the chief for his actions during the 2011 town elections.
On Feb. 27, the Attorney General’s Office filed a single charge of admittance within the guardrail against Begin, 52, based on a complaint received in March 2011 from resident William Tobey.
The complaint against Begin alleged that the chief, who was running for reelection, was seen standing in the area of the polling place where only voters and election workers are allowed to be during elections. Begin went behind the guardrail to assist an elderly resident who was being escorted to the polls by Town Moderator Jerry Little.
Last week at the 9th Circuit Court in Goffstown, Begin, through his attorney Anthony Soltani, argued that the Attorney General’s Office filed the complaint against Begin too late and asked for the case to be dismissed. Associate Attorney General Richard Head defended the late filing stating that the statutes offer an exemption for the standard 90-day statute of limitations for filing a complaint of this type. The exemption, Head told the court, gave the state up to two years to file the complaint if it involves misconduct in office by a public servant. He said that the chief was always the chief and, therefore, always a public servant.
But Gordon rejected Head’s argument because he said Begin wasn’t acting as a police chief doing official business when he went behind the guardrail so the exemption doesn’t apply.
“The misconduct must relate in some manner to the duties undertaken by the public servant while in office,” Gordon wrote. “Otherwise, absurdity could result. For example, an office holder could be stopped for speeding while commuting to work, but not charged until years later.”
Gordon said, “The court does not condone Mr. Begin’s conduct in going within the guardrails during the election. As police chief and as a candidate with his name on the ballot, he should have known better than to put himself in those circumstances.”
Further, Gordon wrote that “the appearance of impropriety could only invite criticism and Mr. Tobey was justified in filing his grievance with the attorney general.”
But Begin’s attorney said the case was a waste of the state’s resources and the charge brought against his client “didn’t even pass the stink test.”
“As a prosecutor, if you had held a gun to my head, I wouldn’t have prosecuted this case,” said Soltani, who said the case should have been handled at the polls.
“If someone makes a mistake and crosses the line … it’s up to the elections process person to say, ‘You are not permitted here. Please leave.’ But the chief was never told to leave,” Soltani said.
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Nancy Bean Foster may be reached at email@example.com.