Legislators Irked Over Court Talks

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, May 10, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- Three state representatives from Hampton are expressing their displeasure at being left out of talks in Exeter last month to discuss the future of the district courts in the two towns.

Nancy Stiles, Tom Gillick and Sheila Francoeur recently wrote letters to Selectmen Chairman Jim Workman accepting his apology for not inviting them to that meeting.

In their letters, all three stated they have been diligently working to keep the District Court - whether a separate or consolidated building - in Hampton.

After reading the minutes of that meeting, Francoeur stated that "one would think that Town Manager James Barrington and Police Chief Bill Wrenn were the only individuals from Hampton working to solve the court situation."

Francoeur said she was embarrassed to read in the newspaper that the meeting occurred without her knowledge. She also said she was equally embarrassed when asked by fellow representatives in Exeter, who were in attendance, why she wasn't there.

Workman said all five of Hampton's representatives will be invited to the next meeting between Hampton and Exeter selectmen, scheduled to be held later this month.

He added that the lack of an invitation was a regrettable oversight on the board's part.

Rep. Tom Gillick

At the meeting, members of the Hampton and Exeter boards, which have been advocating for years for separate courts in the two towns, did an about-face and agreed to fight for a joint court. The reason for the change is the fear that Seabrook will be home to a new regional court.

Seabrook voters have authorized donating 14 acres of town-owned land near the greyhound track on Route 107 to the state as a site for a district court.

The site eyed by Hampton and Exeter selectmen as a possible joint court location is privately owned land off Route 101 in Hampton.

Gillick said Hampton's legislators have not been ignoring the issue and that it isn't a coincidence that Chief Justice John Broderick held a Court Accreditation Committee meeting at Hampton District Court on Dec. 16.

Gillick also added that although Hampton representatives were at a meeting March 11 when the Court Accreditation Committee chose Seabrook as temporary location to house the Hampton District Court, selectmen and the town manager were not.

Gillick said town officials dropped the ball in the fight to keep the court in town on a temporary basis.

The Court Accreditation Committee voted in November to move the Hampton District Court staff out of the location on Winnacunnet Road because the building was in disrepair and not handicapped accessible.

Rep. Nancy Stiles

Stiles stated that although Seabrook reacted quickly to seek sites for a temporary location to house the court, Hampton did not.

Gillick said the state was ready to temporarily move the court to the old Town Hall building.

"The obstacle was that the administrative services commissioner was reluctant to spend state funds to make the site usable," Gillick said.

Gillick said if the town came forward with a little money to repair the furnace and make a few cosmetic interior repairs, the court would have remained in town.

"It is my opinion that appropriate action by the town at the time would have kept the Hampton court in Hampton," Gillick said.

Selectwoman Ginny Bridle-Russell said the town couldn't fix up the old Town Hall because of budgetary issues.

Francoeur said she thinks it's important to keep the court in Hampton.

She also said she has already spoken with Peter Goodwin, administrative services coordinator for court facilities, and has put him in touch with the unidentified individual who owns the land eyed by Hampton and Exeter selectmen for a joint court off Route 101.

Gillick said the fact is that the state will only build one court.

He said there are only two options currently on the table: The state can purchase the land off Route 101 or take Seabrook up on its offer of donated land.

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