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$38 Million YDC Verdict Could Cost Taxpayers Far More

Taxpayers could be on the hook for more than the $38 million verdict to David Meehan in the Sununu Youth Detention Center abuse lawsuit after lawyers with the Department of Health and Human Services tried to force a cap on the award.

The historic jury decision is being disputed by the state, which claims New Hampshire law imposes a cap on monetary damages and limits the amount Meehan can receive to $475,000. But as both sides hash out the dispute, looming is the real possibility that taxpayers will have to pay more — much more — regardless who wins the current dispute.

New Hampshire is a self-insured state, meaning there is no liability coverage policy for Meehan, or the 1,300 other adult survivors who claim they were horrifically abused as children while in state custody. Meehan was the first of the YDC claimants to get to court.

On Wednesday, Rockingham Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman rejected the state’s argument that New Hampshire only needed to pay $475,000 to Meehan for a “single incident” of abuse after a jury ruled in his favor last month. 

“In the court’s view, this would be an obvious miscarriage of justice because the finding of a ‘single incident’ was conclusively against the weight of the evidence,” Schulman wrote.

Meehan’s attorneys claim there were more than 300 incidents of rapes, beatings, emotional abuse, and illegal solitary confinement proven at the trial.

After listening to weeks of testimony about the hundreds rapes and other abuses Meehan suffered as a child in the 1990s, jurors returned a verdict finding the state liable for facilitating Meehan’s abuse and working to cover it up for decades. However, the verdict form was marked to indicate there was one incident where the state engaged in “wanton, malicious, and oppressive conduct” by abusing its power in permitting the sexual assaults.

Lawyers for DHHS argue that form means the $475,000 cap needs to be applied, overriding the $38 million verdict. However, after reading New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella’s statement about the cap, the jury foreman reached out to Meehan’s lawyers to express dismay, saying he felt “duped” by the state.

“I was literally sickened and brought to tears in fear of the mistake we made. I still am,” the foreman wrote in an unsolicited email. “Please know, and PLEASE let Mr. Meehan know that, had we had knowledge that that was the way it was going to work, we would NOT have written it that way.”

Schulman blamed his jury instructions, which did not specify jurors needed to count up all the individual instances of abuse, for the confusion. Schulman wrote he was trying to avoid influencing the jury by explaining the cap.

Schulman wrote that the jury’s $38 million award cannot be explained if it truly found only one instance of abuse had been proved. 

“An overly clever logician might say that the jury could have found that plaintiff proved one instance of abuse, disbelieved his testimony regarding all of the other instances, and awarded $38,000,000 for the single instance,” Schulman wrote. “But this would be sophistry rather than true logic. No reasonable jury would award $38 million for a single instance of abuse. No reasonable jury would have believed plaintiff’s testimony as it related to a single hour and disbelieved his testimony as related to all of the other hours, days, weeks, and months.”

David Vicinanzo, one of Meehan’s lawyers, pushed for an emergency hearing in court to let the jurors clarify their verdict. Short of that, he argued the $475,000 cap ought to be applied to each incident proved at trial, which he pegs at at least 300 rapes alone. 

Schulman’s order Tuesday recommends a process by which he will determine the number of incidents to which the cap could be applied. In more bad news for the state, Schulman writes that in reviewing the trial record he found there were between 103 and 155 incidents proved at trial. That would put the total award at between $47 million and $73 million. 

The state legislature passed a bill creating a $100 million settlement fund for all of the victims. But Vicinanzo and Russ Rilee, the other lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said that fund unjustly limited the damages the survivors could seek. 

The fund is administered by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, who told NHPR last month that 418 survivors entered into settlement agreements, and most took less than $500,000. A few have received more, between $1 million and $5 million. But with at least 1,200 more civil trials pending, the $100 million settlement fund, which has already spent $66 million, will run dry.

The state has been criticized by survivors for the conflict of interest demonstrated by the fact it is defending itself in the civil trials while it is also supposed to prosecuting the alleged abusers. Out of the hundreds of alleged abusers named in the lawsuits, the state has managed to indict just 11 men, with the last of the indictments coming in 2021.

Strafford County Chair Now Claims Low Bid Unworkable

After taking heat for picking the $180 million design for the proposed new Strafford County Nursing Home over a $50 million bid, and then saying he never saw the less expensive bid, Commissioner George Maglaras said Wednesday the low bid wasn’tould work.

“The commission picked the firm we thought had a track record of building larger nursing homes and there are other written responses required within the answering of the RFP,” Maglaras told NHJournal.

Republican members of the Strafford County Delegation blasted Maglaras, a Democrat, and the two other Democratic Commissioners this week after learning about the lower bid from EGA Architects. Rep. Cliff Newton said the Commission kept him and other delegates in the dark about the lower-cost bid on the 215-bed proposal.

“Strafford County Commissioners and administration never informed the delegation of the EGA’s lower cost plan. Instead, they chose a much more expensive and institutionalized building plan without exploring different options that would have been acceptable to the entire delegation,” Newton said.

When contacted Tuesday about the EGA bid, Maglaras initially told The Rochester Voice he never saw EGA’s bid. That’s despite the fact the NHJournal found records showing the Commission was presented with all six bids, including EGA’s, on the project in 2022 when they voted to go with Warrenstreet. By Wednesday, Maglaras blamed politics for the kerfuffle, and said he was misunderstood.

“I said that there was never a $40 million proposal put before us,” Maglaras said. “These claims by some of the Republican members are misguided and are inflammatory and political in nature.”

According to Maglaras, the EGA bid quoted the Commission a cost of $350 a square foot to build the new home. But that number was never going to work, he said. EGA cited its work building the Carroll County Nursing Homes 10 years ago in its bid to Strafford. However, the construction company hired by EGA in Carroll told a slightly different story, Maglaras said.

“I brought in Bonnette, Page and Stone who was the contractor that actually built the Carroll County Nursing Home designed by EGA and they told the entire delegation in a public meeting it would cost $600 a square foot to construct a similar facility today and that the (Carroll County) home does not meet present federal design standards,” Maglaras said. “Architects don’t build buildings, construction companies do. You need to compare apples to apples not apples to cherries.

Comparing Maglaras’ math, that means the EGA bid would have cost as much as $83 million at $600 per square foot, instead of the $50 million the company quoted. The Warrentstreet project costs close to $1,300 per square foot.

The Republicans on the delegation have twice blocked the Commission from getting bonds for the $180 million proposal, and the Nursing Home project is currently stalled out. Maglaras wants to see the project get back on track.

“We have offered to meet with all the parties to see if we can’t move the process forward. The offer still stands and we will be reaching out to them,” Maglaras said.

Strafford County Ignored Low Nursing Home Bid

A million here, a million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money, the saying goes.

Unless it’s taxpayer money. 

Strafford County’s quest for a new nursing home stalled out last year when members of the county legislative delegation balked at the astronomical $170 million proposal pushed by county commissioners. Representatives like Cliff Newton (R-Rochester) blocked the commissioner’s request to take out a massive bond for a 215-bed nursing home proposal complete with a golf course and waterfall.

But now, Newton is flabbergasted to learn commissioners ignored a $50 million bid when they originally opted for a grander vision.

“It boggles my mind they did that,” Newton told NHJournal.

When the commissioners voted unanimously to go with the extravagant bid submitted by architectural firm Warrentstreet in May 2022, it passed over the $49 million bid from EGA Architects. The lower bid was never shared with the delegation, Newton said.

“They did it without notifying the delegation of anything,” Newton said.

Commission Chair George Maglaras denied ever seeing the lower bid, telling The Rochester Voice on Tuesday, “That proposal never came before us.”

However, the EGA bid was presented to the commission at the May 26, 2022 meeting, according to meeting minutes on file. Maglaras did not respond to a request for comment from NHJournal.

The county’s all-Democrat commission has been working for years to put together a winning proposal for a new nursing home. Twice the delegation stopped its plans over cost concerns. Newton fully supports a new nursing home for county residents, but said the expensive plans favored by the commission don’t make sense for taxpayers.

Frustrated by a lack of a new, lower-cost proposal, Newton and others took a trip to Carroll County to tour the nursing home there. Impressed by that facility, put together by EGA, they spoke to company representatives about doing the same for Strafford County. That’s when Newton and other delegation members found out EGA, in fact, submitted the $50 million bid.

“I knew that we were not being told the whole story on the county nursing home project,” Newton said.

Rep. Joe Pitre (R-Farmington) said commissioners wasted time and taxpayer money pursuing the high-cost project. So far, the county has spent close to $2 million developing the upscale Warrentstreet proposal.

“When I spoke with [EGA] they said yes, they could build one, but would have to adjust for inflation to a cost of approximately $64 million, or $15 million more because of the delay,” Pitre said.

Newton and Pitre started digging and found the EGA bid submitted in April 2022, as well as the record on the May 2022 vote.

“Strafford County commissioners and administration never informed the delegation of the EGA’s lower cost plan. Instead, they chose a much more expensive and institutionalized building plan without exploring different options that would have been acceptable to the entire delegation,” Newton said. “As a result of their actions, we have not approved a bond for an extravagant nursing home. We have gone nowhere in two years. We have spent $2 million of taxpayer money with nothing to show for it, and that is just plain wrong.”

Newton believes the commissioners want to build a facility that can compete with the many private nursing homes already in Strafford County. The county home is a service for county residents, and it is supposed to be there for the people, he said.

“Instead, they’re chasing revenue by trying to compete with private nursing homes,” Newton said.

Disgraced Dem Brave’s Valentine’s Day Date Pushed Back

The lawman with a big heart, Mark Brave, could be getting a gift from prosecutors in the form of a plea agreement. Just not on Valentine’s Day as requested. 

The former Strafford County Sheriff is due in Rockingham Superior Court on March 4 for a dispositional hearing, originally scheduled for Tuesday. Facing the deadline, and preparing a plea agreement offer, Assistant Attorney General Joe Fincham asked for a change to Feb. 14 hearing last week.

“The State has not yet provided Defendant with a formal plea offer in this matter due to specific details of the plea not being finalized, but the State anticipates being able to make a formal offer in the next two weeks,” Fincham wrote.

But romance is dead, and proof is the fact the court’s clerk set the date for March.  

Brave is accused of stealing almost $20,000 in taxpayer money to fund his illicit love life and he faces several felony charges connected to his alleged extramarital affair-fueled thefts. 

Brave was New Hampshire’s first elected Black sheriff and a rising star in the state Democratic Party until his self-inflicted scandal forced him out of the job.

Brave allegedly used his county-issued credit card to fly out of state to meet his paramours. He also booked hotel rooms and restaurants in Boston for romantic getaways and even took dates to an indoor water park. When the criminal investigation into his credit card use became public, Brave accused fellow Democrat and Strafford County Commissioner George Maglaras of being a racist. 

Though Brave agreed to go on administrative leave last summer after he was indicted, the trouble did not stop. He is accused of lying to the court and violating his bail conditions. 

Brave was allegedly less than truthful about how much money he had after his divorce in order to obtain a free public defender. Instead of using his money for a lawyer, Brave reportedly bought a classic 1968 Porsche and paid $50,000 to rent an apartment in the Bay State.

At the time Brave moved to his Tewksbury, Mass. apartment, he was under a bail order to live in New Hampshire. Brave allegedly got around that by giving prosecutors and court officials a false address in Dover.

When that house was discovered, Fincham told the court Brave was essentially stealing money by collecting his sheriff’s salary while living out of state. With Fincham demanding his bail be revoked and the prospect of new charges looming, Brave resigned his job last month.