Thursday, December 14, 2023

Another Legal Tragedy Starring Christopher Boldt and His Colleague Christopher Hawkins Unfolds in Haverhill, New Hampshire

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar... "

                                                Julius Caesar (Act 3, Scene 2)

By: Rich Bergeron

     The tragedy of Julius Caesar would have been a completely different story if Brutus and Cassius were caught in the middle of planning Caesar's assassination. Instead, the co-conspirators who slaughtered the ambitious Roman hero were able to carry out the brutal killing under the guise of a political stunt. Their own subsequent brutal demises soon followed. William Shakespeare basically uses the story of Caesar's betrayal to prove that Karma is as real as the struggle.  

      There are a plethora of parallels between the Tragedy of Julius Caesar and the latest scandalous escapade of Attorney Christopher Boldt and his nefarious colleagues at the law firm of Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella (DTC). 

     We open Act I of this ongoing saga in the quiet town of Haverhill, New Hampshire. It is the kind of town that's small enough to still feel like "the country" but big enough to contain "special districts" like the tiny hamlet of "Woodsville." Like Rome, Haverhill was not built in a day. Woodsville and Haverhill have a complex recent history of disagreement on who should provide and pay for certain services in the district. 

     Wikipedia describes the tiny district at the edge of town as follows: "Woodsville is a census-designated place (CDP) and the largest village in the town of Haverhill in Grafton County, New Hampshire, United States, along the Connecticut River at the mouth of the Ammonoosuc River. The population was 1,431 at the 2020 census. Although North Haverhill is now the county seat of Grafton County, the village of Woodsville has traditionally been considered the county seat, as the county courthouse was originally located there. The county buildings are now located halfway between Woodsville and the village of North Haverhill to the south."

     Woodsville, a mere 1.88 square mile territory, benefited from a formal financial arrangement with the town of Haverhill for generations. Haverhill routinely paid hefty sums each year out of their tax base to subsidize Woodsville's Fire Department and Highway Department. Eventually a few members of the Board of Selectmen of Haverhill and Haverhill Town Manager Brigitte Codling began looking into the legality of this unique arrangement and examining the actual language of the antiquated pact made between the two parties. 

Brigitte Codling

      Codling, who was already concerned about how prior town leadership handled the funding formula, asked her assistant Jennifer Boucher to look into the laws and agreements behind the arrangement. It turned out the actual calculations of the amount due to Woodsville each and every year were drastically inaccurate due to a misinterpretation of the terms "gross" and "net" by prior town administrations. Boucher discovered the discrepancy and cried foul.  
      For decades, the town of Haverhill was actually over-paying what was purportedly owed to Woodsville. It also seemed peculiar that the town of Haverhill had no oversight of the funds and the voting public did not seem to have an avenue to vote on whether or not to approve the funding that would come out of their taxes each year. It's the old taxation without representation argument in current times. It's no wonder a key point of argument for the Woodsville crowd is that there is "enabling legislation" that allows for this unusual financial relationship between the town and the district. 

     The fight over keeping the cash spigot open or letting the Woodsville funding lapse is hard to encapsulate. It's a true soap opera continuously unfolding. It has so many dramatic phases and facets. The story behind it really could be adapted into a great American novel about small town political corruption. 

      The yearly Woodsville subsidy became such a hot button political issue in Haverhill that selectmen outwardly ran on platforms that were either anti-Woodsville funding or pro gravy train. There were multiple legal efforts to slam the door on the entire issue. Currently there is an appeal with the State Supreme Court on the NH Department of Revenue's denial of the warrant articles that would have continued the funding for at least one more year. It seems to be Woodsville's last gasp attempt to get one more welfare check. 

      Haverhill Resident Lorraine Prescott came to a candidates event in March, 2022 to ask a very specific question about whether any of those running for the Board of Selectmen intended to terminate the town manager due to her "reforms" on the funding issue. Prescott explained her reasoning as follows: 

     “A couple of years ago I started hearing all the scuttlebutt about the town manager, and how they couldn’t wait to stack the select board with Woodsville people so we could get rid of her and get back to the way that things were. That’s the only reason I came here today because this has stuck in my craw all that time. It’s not right.”

      Current Selectman Kevin Knapp told Prescott and the rest of those in attendance at the time: "I believe Brigitte Codling is a very smart woman, and I do believe nobody wants to stack the deck against her.” Those would be words that would be hard to reconcile with Knapp's behavior during the next few months. 

      On April 25, 2022, shortly after the Town Manager made her request to DRA to disallow Warrant Articles funding Woodsville's Fire and Highway departments, the Selectboard convened, and Selectman Kevin Knapp made a motion to re-vote on a 2020 Work Session that gave the Town Manager full authority over legal matters related to Woodsville Precinct and move that authority to the Select Board. His motion failed.     

      Knapp also sent a key email to DTC Attorney Christopher Hawkins on November 23, 2022 at 12:17 PM, stating: “I am finally getting somewhere. The board is having a non meeting next Monday with the Mitchell group. To see where we stand. We just received the 2020 audit and it didn't turn out well. So we are taking action. Could you let me know if we can make decisions in a non meeting and if not can we call for an emergency meeting? How soon can we have an emergency meeting after calling for one? Four of us are one board with hiring your firm to terminate our town manager. 

       The issue that spawned the complex, extensive litigation involving both communities became mostly moot when the state legislature ultimately stepped in and stopped Haverhill's subsidies from flowing to the Woodsville fire department and highway department. NH State Senator Bob Giuda (R) was the primary sponsor of SB26, which made it illegal for Haverhill to expend the payments without a valid warrant article voted through by the citizens of Haverhill. The following language of the bill is pretty clear: 

"...all other appropriations shall be as directed by warrant articles duly voted by the voters present and voting at each annual Haverhill town meeting."

     Haverhill Town Manager Codling helped spearhead the effort to re-evaluate the Woodsville funding in the first place, acting on Select Board recommendations to look into the issue. Her asking the difficult questions uncovered major issues with the Woodsville "good old boy network" intent on protecting the status quo. 

     Haverhill Citizen Dawn Lavoie, who attends Board of Selectmen meetings regularly, explained that Codling took a deeper look into the town's Woodsville subsidies, and she eventually uncovered some serious red flags, mistakes in the accounting, and other irregularities. Lavoie added that the folks getting the money in Woodsville "didn't like it" when Codling started taking action to address the issues she discovered.  

      Codling wasn't looking for clients willing to speak out about Hexavalent Chromium poisoning, but she found a way to exert her own Erin Brockovich effort to fight against deep-pocketed Woodsville interests. She steered the town through a major lawsuit and then led a fight to legislate an end to the madness with Senator Giuda. 

      Essentially, Haverhill drew a line in the sand and let it be known that if Haverhill as a whole could cover the highway and fire response needs of Woodsville, there was no need for the special district to have its own departments funded by overblown subsidies at the expense of Haverhill taxpayers. If Woodsville really wanted a highway department and a fire department of its own, the citizens of Woodsville needed to find a way to pay for it themselves. If they wanted it all paid for by Haverhill, they would have to get Haverhill voters to approve those expenditures.     

     Since the 1990s, the Woodsville Highway and Fire Department funding mechanism has been governed by a Memorandum of Understanding between Haverhill and Woodsville. The first Town Manager of Haverhill was Glenn English. He participated in a deposition (pages 26-75) as part of the litigation between Woodsville and Haverhill which described in depth how the easy to misinterpret "formula" for calculating the funding developed over time. 

Matthew Bjelobrk

      Former Selectman Matt Bjelobrk believes the supposed confusion over the final yearly appropriation numbers was no accident. He said the miscalculations were "purposeful, systematic and generational." Bjelobrk said he sees massive corruption going on in the village district of Woodsville. 

      Bjelobrk recalled that it was the purchase of a grader for the highway department that led to the first serious questions being raised about the validity of the formula used to calculate that funding from Haverhill to Woodsville. Bjelobrk was on the board when he said one of the Woodsville commissioners demanded $25,000 based on the purchase price for the grader immediately after the funds to buy it were appropriated. 

     "They got greedy," explained Bjelobrk. 

     "That's our cut," the former selectman recalled Woodsville Commissioner Steve Wheeler telling him when he asked what the $25,000 was for. 

      Bjelobrk also reported that one of the Woodsville commissioners explained to him once that the district has "several lucrative enterprises" that allow it to operate with a zero percent tax rate. Bjelobrk also pointed to how everything runs through Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank. "People gotta be getting paid," he said as he detailed a theory he has that involves Home Equity Loans and other financial instruments that he believes were illegally funded, forgiven or never put on the books for certain individuals and entities. 

      Ironically, in their vociferous, relentless and ruthless fight to keep the payments from Haverhill coming every year, Woodsville interests overly committed to the cause inadvertently exposed all the layers of corruption at the heart of the whole district's operation and management. The desperate attempts to maintain that automatic funding also led to even more corruption involving a familiar name on this site.  

Attorney Christopher Boldt

      Christopher Boldt, his friend Erich Maher and conflicted Attorney Christopher Hawkins saw their own plan B take effect after watching Woodsville's gravy train get derailed by the New Hampshire legislature. This little legal cabal from DTC joined forces to bypass the state's roadblock through a scheme that was clearly not well thought out. These attorneys, even including one purporting to be an expert on ethics and legal malpractice, became so sympathetic to Woodsville's cause that they cozied up to a few members of the Board of Selectmen in Haverhill to attempt to pull off what could only be described as a bloodless coup at the small-town level. 

       And so, the stage is set for another Shakespeare-inspired play unfolding in real time in modern-day New Hampshire. It is a living history tribute to the classic tale of Julius Caesar.  We have Christopher Boldt playing a main supporting role to the attempted character assassination and employment termination of the Haverhill town manager who was in the way of restoring the Woodsville funding. The Julius Caesar parallels are astounding. 

      A group of DTC attorneys led by none other than Christopher Hawkins--the same guy asking Glenn English the questions (on behalf of Woodsville) in the above-linked deposition--secretly worked to get the town manager's contract terminated to perfect their scheme. They were even willing to seek the termination of Codling's assistant as well. These conniving counselors had the full support of a few members of the town's select board willing to do Woodsville's bidding. 

     There was one slight problem for these DTC attorneys and their friends on the board. They did not have an official vote to hire them on the books in the traditional open board meeting style. There was no recorded vote in any meeting minutes for the board that specifically referred to actually hiring DTC attorneys for any task. There was only discussion about approaching DTC attorneys to ask the firm if they could represent the town, which required DTC to run "conflict checks." This is standard practice designed to ensure that the prior or current representation of the firm's other clients would not be an issue in fairly representing the town and the best interests of the taxpayers of Haverhill.   

       Attorney Boldt himself assured another attorney in the firm that he would "remain silent per instructions" in regard to the town manager's repeated inquiries into conflict checks that needed to be run before DTC could be formally hired to represent the town. 

      Attorney Christopher Hawkins took a direct lead on advising the selectmen who wanted Codling gone and the Woodsville funding restored. The selectmen at the heart of the effort to fire Codling even received complex briefings on immunity in the event that Codling were to sue them for wrongful termination. Throughout his purportedly legitimate representation of the board, Attorney Hawkins never adequately weighed the conflicts of interest he had in representing Haverhill on the opposite side of an issue he represented Woodsville on in the very recent past.   

      At the height of this coup attempt, the DTC attorneys even attempted to claim the work of another firm as their own.  Boldt, Maher and Hawkins further engaged in proclaiming a series of flat out lies as the complete truth to try to get Codling to approve of their supposed formal retention by the town's select board. The reality was the board never reached a quorum of any kind and never voted to actually retain the firm at all. Codling told them as much, and so did her assistant, in writing. 

     These attorneys, who clearly know better, ignored these warnings. They even went as far as feigning a formal representation agreement from the town of Haverhill through acquiring just one signature from one of the Woodsville sympathizers on the board. They actually sent that retention agreement to the private residence of one single board member: Selectman Steve Robbins. Robbins actually admitted in writing to signing the final "agreement" at the Woodsville District Office. Robbins has a direct financial connection to the Woodsville funding. He is an executive level member of the very fire department which the funding directly benefits

     Board Chairman Fred Garofalo refused to sign that same "agreement" Boldt, Maher and Hawkins tried to spin as if it was legitimate and binding. Fred Garofalo ultimately resigned, and Bjelobrk reported that the troubled board chair came to Town Manager Codling and told her the other board members were "doing illegal shit" before signing a very vague resignation letter. The DTC legal crew and the Brutus and Cassius types on the Haverhill Select Board subsequently aligned to initiate a true shadow government move. They attempted to purposely use their positions of influence to improperly further Woodsville's financial interests. Robbins, who should have recused himself by law, had a giant conflict of interest in hiring the DTC attorneys who were so sympathetic to restoring the funding for the district. 

     These shady, underhanded attorneys even had the unmitigated gall to bill the town of Haverhill for the attempted coup after it fell apart. On August 24, 2023, DTC sent a letter to Town counsel stating that if DTC did not receive payment of $14,588.88 in full by September 25, 2023, it would file a complaint with the Dispute Resolution Committee of the New Hampshire Bar Association and seek arbitration pursuant to their supposedly authorized contract with the town. No actual arbitration attempt has since been made by the firm's attorneys. 

       Two selectmen in town subsequently resigned when the coup failed. Robbins ended up being voted out. A key text from Attorney Hawkins to Selectman Robbins after Robbins was given the boot by voters says it all: 

      The Town Manager alone actually had all the authority to hire and fire legal counsel in relation to any Woodsville matters. This is why a faction of the select board branched off and tried to work around Codling to benefit the Woodsville cause. As municipal legal experts, DTC attorneys should have been intimately familiar with how Town Manager governments operate. They additionally knew what would constitute a valid vote binding the town to any "agreement" to retain a law firm. In this case, all the co-conspirators should have also known all along that only the person they wanted to get rid of had the direct authority to hire a law firm to deal with any legal issue related to Woodsville. 

      At the end of the day, these dishonest and deceptive attorneys and board members all knew there was never a valid agreement, and there was certainly never a duly warned meeting where there was any legitimate public vote by the board to ratify any legal contract with the firm. The public meeting minutes would have reflected such a vote if it occurred. These minutes have been thoroughly reviewed, and there is no mention of any vote to hire any attorney from DTC for any reason. 

       Regardless, Hawkins was so committed to the cause that he basically promised a free solution after learning his chief co-conspirator was no longer in any position to help him politically or financially. That text just screams out "I am way too personally invested in this." It is all the proof of a conflict of interest you need to press a malpractice case, which Hawkins also happens to specialize in

      Still, the DTC crew demanded payment for their efforts and maintained that what they did was in the best interests of the entire town. 

     These shyster attorneys transformed the tragedy of Julius Caesar into a parody of sorts and committed a veritable comedy of errors at the municipal level in Haverhill. The firm they came from ironically prides itself on their "impeccable reputation" and calls themselves "dedicated to clients" in a play on their DTC initials. 

     It is often said the cover-up is worse than the crime, and the DTC crew basically filled in their footprints at the crime scene with dog crap. Caught red handed by smart investigators who followed the stench of the stool, these daft co-conspirators were baffled. They still can't seem to figure out how their shady scheme to pull off a hostile takeover of town leadership can be considered suspect.  

     Act II of this comedy of errors opens with the town fighting back with a legal complaint against the DTC firm and the associated attorneys. An insurance company stepped in to represent the DTC interests, and their ANSWER to the legal claims just doubles down on the lies the DTC attorneys told to get themselves in trouble to begin with. This series will continue to evolve as we analyze and report on information and evidence that is compiled in the current legal action between the town and DTC. 

      A recent Haverhill Board of Selectman meeting featured Former Selectman Matthew Bjelobrk (now a private citizen) demanding that Board Member Kevin Knapp resign his post:

      "Do you think it's right to lie to people? I think you should resign. You have done nothing for the town," Bjelobrk remarked during the pointed teardown of the last political figure from the coup attempt still clinging to his position on the Haverhill board. 
      There is no doubt the sparks will continue to fly in the Haverhill/Woodsville funding feud, and the resulting drama will be worthy of the finest stage in the world. There is no better art that than this kind of true story. This bit of civil litigation will re-invigorate the funding controversy once again, but Haverhill citizens like Bjelobrk are hoping there's a different kind of legal effort coming down the pipeline involving criminal charges for the perpetrators of this small town grift. 

     "They stole from us," he said in a recent interview. "We're not gonna stop fighting until these thugs are gone." 

CLICK HERE to read part two of this Haverhill/Woodsville series.

CLICK HERE to read part three of this Haverhill/Woodsville series.

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  1. Editor's Note: This is a developing story, and we have reached out repeatedly to the DTC attorneys in question for comment with no response. We sent an additional request for comment to the assigned lawyers from the firm representing DTC on the case. They also provided no response. We have also reached out to Steve Robbins with no reply. If you have information about this story, please feel free to contact me at 603-630-6235 to discuss. There will definitely be future installments in this series, and our next piece will take a closer look at the big financial picture and the detailed accounting involved in this constantly developing situation.

  2. sounds like main stream media to me with NO real look from Woodsville side. Town division at it's finest, good job!

    1. My number is above. Feel free to call me. I will talk to anyone who has relevant information. Mainstream media isn't even covering this story at all, so not sure where you get the idea that's what this is.

  3. I have actually reached out to some folks who could have provided the Woodsville perspective, namely Steve Robbins and all the DTC lawyers mentioned in this article. None of them were brave enough to provide any response at all. Even your comment comes from an anonymous profile. Nobody from the Woodsville side of this story is willing to step forward publicly so far and put a real name to their remarks. I can't write about a side of the story nobody is willing to tell.