Saturday, September 18, 2021

Christopher Boldt's Texas-Sized Mistakes Follow Him to New Hampshire

 “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.”

William Shakespeare's MacBeth

Chris Boldt in a festive mood at a charity pie auction

By: Rich Bergeron

     Christopher Boldt made his Texas exodus sometime after securing membership in the New Hampshire Bar Association in 2002. The Dripping Springs development scandal didn't seem to stop him from acquiring gainful employment. Within five years of obtaining his state bar card, Boldt landed a gig at a prestigious regional firm. His bio page makes it clear he is personally responsible for rewriting state law on land use. He also routinely advises boards of towns and cities across the state, and even state agencies seek out his guidance on complex issues. 

     As we found out already in this series, Boldt's first partnership ended in the whole city of Dripping Springs having to change their ethical standards for public officials. Now this yahoo who retreated from the Lone Star State primarily due to a controversial land deal gone horribly wrong is advising our state on a wide variety of land use issues. He is quite literally the fox guarding the henhouse. Is he changing these rules for the better or so that only he knows the loopholes so only he can exploit them? 

     You want a variance on zoning for a property you own in New Hampshire? Well, you better get familiar with Chris Boldt's government-sanctioned white paper on variance applications. The New Hampshire Municipal Association even honored Boldt by designating him the winner of their 2019 Russ Marcoux Municipal Advocate of the Year Award. Boldt somehow landed this stamp of approval from a state organization the year after his town lost a case that highlighted serious Right to Know Law violations. These accusations were leveled against both the town's Zoning Board of Adjustment Members as well as the town's Board of Selectmen. The $200,000 settlement did not make Boldt, who was one of those selectmen, much of an advocate for his own municipality. 

Under the settlement: (i) the Town withdrew its pending appeal to the Supreme Court with prejudice; (ii) the Superior Court’s orders that, among other relief, vacated a total of 6 Town administrative proceedings and mandated Town officials and employees to attend remedial training, collectively became a final, binding, and non-appealable judgment; (iii) the Town and the intervenors together agreed to reimburse the Porters $200,000 in attorneys’ fees of the $204,000 awarded by the Superior Court; and (iv) the Porters’ will dismiss 2 appeals of Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) decisions that are now moot.  

     Boldt professes to be an expert on New Hampshire's Right to Know Law in multiple biographies published across the World Wide Web. Yet, his own actions as a selectman in Sandwich proved otherwise. He failed to both act professionally in his own capacity as a selectman and to properly advise his colleagues of the legal ramifications of not following the Right to Know Law. Boldt and multiple town officials he was in a position to advise had to complete "remedial training" as part of the direct consequences for violating the Right to Know Law. 

    This was not Attorney Boldt's first entanglement with a Board of Selectmen and the "Right to Know Law." More than a decade ago he made the local paper when the town of Sanbornton's Board of Selectmen, which he advised, decided to interview an alternate Zoning Board of Adjustment Member in private. The incident ruffled some feathers and made some citizens wonder why selectmen had to talk to this alternate ZBA member outside of the public session. 

     It's a wonder that Boldt even made it to 2010 as the legal representative for the town considering how much his bad advice cost taxpayers over the years. 2006 was a particularly bad year for Boldt. It started with a January article in the Laconia Daily Sun, which highlighted multiple situations in which Boldt failed to provide adequate counsel. Helmut Busack, the Chairman of the Planning Board, did not mince words when referring to Boldt in the article: 

"We don't want to be represented by that gentleman," Busack informed selectmen, assuring them that he spoke for the members of the Planning Board who were present at the board's meeting Tuesday evening. "We're an autonomous board and we want our own counsel."

     Selectman Andrew Livernois, also a prominent attorney at the time (and the current Belknap County Attorney), seemed to have Boldt's back on this particular issue. Busack, now deceased, insisted the board needed to get their advice from a better legal mind. He ignored Livernois' suggestion that Boldt handle the town's defense of the lawsuit and work with the planning board at the same time. Busack also rebuffed another selectman who suggested legal matters should be discussed in private session. 

     The crowd may have had the best questions for the two high-powered lawyers. Susan Sleeper asked why Boldt would accept service of a lawsuit against the town after the deadline had passed already. 

     Meanwhile, Livernois played the fatherhood card when a taxpayer chided him for missing selectmen meetings. The "childcare" issue Livernois cited is much more complicated and tawdry than it sounds. Another taxpayer challenged Livernois on whether he even lived in town. It was a rough year for Livernois as well, and by December he faced calls to resign for both missing selectmen's meetings and planning board meetings he was supposed to attend on behalf of the board of selectmen. 

    By July, 2006, another lawsuit against the town of Sanbornton resulted in the planning board again seeking to work with their own attorney. Bernie Waugh, Jr. stepped in to advise them the first time they rebuked Boldt, but this time they would have to tolerate Boldt's intervention in the case until Waugh became available again to assist them. The delay cost the town even more legal fees, fitting a pattern of exceeding the legal budget year after year. 

     These cases had a common theme. Instead of repeating his big Texas mistakes and ramming developments down the throats of angry neighbors with his legal wrangling, Boldt stood in the way of big development projects this time while advising the town of Sanbornton, New Hampshire. His bad advice and erroneous counsel was actually rewarded in the form of him being paid legal fees to deal with all the disputes his own piss poor guidance created. 

     Helmut Busack seems to have caught on to Boldt's games, though he didn't go as far as suggesting the town should fire Boldt. Instead, another key town official resigned suddenly and without explanation: 

The legal dispute couldn’t have come at a worse time, said Town Administrator Bruce Kneuer. “All of this is being compounded by the fact that on Wednesday, May 24, our part-time Planner David Lorch resigned effectively immediately. He would have been the one who would normally be working with the attorney — but Mr. Waugh is unable to get started on the case right away anyway.”

      Kneuer didn't seem to be too bothered by the extra legal costs, but he cited a figure of $28,000 already paid for legal services (in July) out of a total yearly budget for the town of $40,000. 

     Four years later another lawsuit surfaced, directly resulting from a change of decision on the town's granting of a variance to another property owner. The Laconia Daily Sun described the details of how the decision to reverse course on the variance came to be made: 

But while the Robitaille's were navigating the final hurdles for their septic system, the town fathers were working behind the scenes. Following what Selectmen's Chair David Nickerson said were "a couple of people who asked us to take a look at it," the Selectboard, after seeking a legal opinion from Town Attorney Christopher Boldt, asked the Zoning Board to rehear the variance request and it assented, granting the rehearing on May 11.

      Both Boldt and Waugh handled this new litigation facing the town. Waugh represented the ZBA while Boldt represented the town. 

      If Boldt thought that 2006 was a bad year, 2007 didn't start off much better. Sanbornton Town Resident Peter Dascoulias started asking some very serious questions about unexplained increases in property assessments. Dascoulias and his wife Donna had already sued the town themselves in 2006 over more Right to Know Law issues. Property taxes pay for a lot of different services and departments in New Hampshire municipalities. Assessments decide what a particular property owner will pay in property taxes. Since there is no income tax or sales tax, property tax in New Hampshire is crucial when it comes to fundraising for these cities and towns. 

      I saw plenty of manipulating going on with assessment numbers when I worked as a young reporter for the now defunct Laconia Citizen. Boldt being the town of Sanbornton's legal counsel when accusations were being made by a town resident about unfair assessments isn't a shock. What is shocking is how this attorney with such a shady past managed to use his expertise on assessing properties with complex analyses to make a ton of tax revenue for the towns and cities he represented. 

     Our next installment will describe how Boldt's business model changed once he gained a full understanding of the importance of property tax revenue. We'll explore more recent schemes and scandals, and a few other lawsuits Boldt managed to get himself into over the last few years. 

Read and Share the entire Christopher Boldt Series:

The Plan B Justice Group: To Be or Not To Be... Corrupt to the Core, The Christopher Boldt Series (Part One)

The Plan B Justice Group: Deep in the Heart of Texas a Scandal is Born, Chris Boldt Plays a Supporting Role (Part Two)

The Plan B Justice Group: Christopher Boldt's Texas-Sized Mistakes Follow Him to New Hampshire (Part Three)

The Plan B Justice Group: Stealing Power: Christopher Boldt Helps Municipalities in New Hampshire Squeeze Utilities For More Tax Dollars (Part Four)

The Plan B Justice Group: Tax Breaks for Town Officials in Berlin Raise Questions About Christopher Boldt's Lack of Legal Ethics (Part Five)

The Plan B Justice Group: Rigging the Rates Against the Deepest Pockets Doesn't Stop at Utilities for the Boldt and Sansoucy Gravy Train (Part Six)

The Plan B Justice Group: Gorham's Businesses Struggle Under Financial Pressure from Town's Deliberate Property Tax Gouging Scheme (Part Seven)

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