A lawyer who represents the only Salem police official still under investigation has won a lawsuit forcing disclosure of any Salem town records dealing with suspicions of fraud when it comes to employee disability retirement.

Salem must turn over disputed records and the town must pay the legal bills in connection to the case, according to the decision of Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Amy Messer.

The Right-to-Know Law case was brought by Manchester lawyer Andrea Amodeo-Vickery as an individual; she represents Robert Morin in a defamation suit against the town.

Morin, a former deputy police chief, has been under investigation by outgoing Attorney General Gordon MacDonald for two years. He retired after being placed on administrative leave in 2019. All others associated with the investigation have either been cleared or charged.

In September, Amodeo-Vickery filed a Right-to-Know request for any information about claims of fraud in accidental disability retirement. She received a 10-page document.

Meanwhile, the town provided MacDonald’s office a much larger file about suspected fraud, which prompted the lawsuit.

The town said it provided MacDonald’s office with information about possible disability fraud; by contrast, Amodeo-Vickery asked for cases of outright fraud.

But Judge Messer said the town should have provided documents related to suspected fraud to the lawyer.

Messer said such distinctions would require people asking for records to rely on “magic words” to receive the correct information.

“This tells me that not one of them — (town manager) Chris Dillon or (human resources director) Anne Fogarty — understand New Hampshire Retirement System’s accident disability retirement procedures,” Amodeo-Vickery said on Monday.

An email sent to Dillon on Monday was not returned.

Dillon had encouraged the Attorney General’s Office to investigate potential disability retirement fraud. But the office turned him down, noting the town approved the retirement cases, according to a November letter supplied by Amodeo-Vickery.

Amodeo-Vickery said Dillon is trying to renegotiate a police union contract that removes a provision that requires the town to pay for the health care of officers who end up on disability retirement.

Also, the union and town are awaiting an arbitration ruling on whether the town should pay Medicare premiums for such retired officers, the lawyer said.

Messer notes that Dillon contacted the attorney general and noted an unusually high number of police duty-related disability retirement cases in the town.

“I do not think what is going on is right and I believe the tax payers are being unfairly charged,” Dillon wrote.

The ruling is the latest in long-running legal challenges the town has faced since Dillon commissioned an outside review that found wide-ranging problems with the police department.

Messer awarded attorney fees because the town knew or should have known that its narrow reading of the lawyer’s request was a violation of the state Right-to-Know Law.

Amodeo-Vickery said her law partner, who brought the suit on her behalf, bills at $300 an hour, and they are putting together their bill now.

Monday, March 08, 2021