Judge says NH prison guards can keep $2 million

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Two state prison guards fired after their co-workers misrepresented their roles in a prison assault can keep the $2 million a jury awarded them in May, a judge has ruled. But the state may appeal the case.

The state attorney general’s office, which had asked the judge to set aside the award or at least reduce it, is now deciding whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Richard Head, an attorney with the office, said Friday he thinks the state still has a strong challenge even though it didn’t prevail with the trial judge.

Kevin Leonard, a lawyer for the two guards, said an appeal would be irresponsible to taxpayers because the state must add nearly $10,000 a month in interest for each month it delays paying the guards.

Leonard said the state already owes his clients $230,000 in interest, and added that an appeal could take months.

In 2006, prison guards Tim Hallam and Joseph Laramie sued two fellow state prison guards in 2006 for giving false accounts of their roles in a 2005 assault of a state prison inmate. Hallam, Laramie and their two accusers were among those who responded when the inmate became belligerent, according to court records.

The inmate accused prison guards Todd Connor and Shawn Stone of assaulting him. But when a prison investigator interviewed the inmate and the guards involved, everyone gave a different account of what had happened. The investigation resulted in the firings of Hallam and Laramie.

Hallam, the inquiry found, had failed to document the assault as required. Laramie was accused of assaulting the inmate and obstructing the investigation. Both men appealed that decision to a state labor appeals board.

In 2006, that appeals board found in favor of Hallam and Laramie without hearing the prison’s side of the case. The board reinstated both men, after which Hallam and Laramie sued their co-workers, Stone and Connor, for allegedly intentionally misrepresenting their role in the inmate assault.

In May, a Merrimack County jury found in their favor and awarded Hallam $1.3 million and Laramie $650,000 in damages. Several days later, the attorney general’s office asked for a new trial on the grounds that Leonard had made inappropriate remarks in his closing argument to jurors. The state also argued that the award, if justified, was far too high.

The state also wanted an award capped at $450,000 for each plaintiff on the grounds that the guards sued were state employees and entitled to certain protections.

This week, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge David Sullivan rejected those arguments. He said he thought Hallam deserved the $1.3 million he was awarded, in part because Hallam had overcome a number of mental problems and considered his prison position the perfect job.

Laramie’s award of $650,000 was a bit high, Sullivan wrote, but not excessively so. The case not only cost Laramie money but also contributed to the breakdown of his marriage and caused him hardship at work, Sullivan wrote.

Laramie is still working at the prison. Hallam is getting counseling, his attorney said, and is no longer at the prison.

source: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/N/NH_PRISON_GUARD_SUIT_NHOL-?SITE=RIPRJ&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

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