By Ray Carbone
NEWPORT – The question of whether a Sunapee man will again face criminal charges related to an election fraud case in his town will be determined by how a Newport District Court judge legally interprets his conduct during the incident.
“It’s an interesting case because we’re confronted with what constitutes conduct (according to the law),” commented Judge Gregory E. Michael at a hearing in his court last week.
Joseph Furlong was originally charged with illegally altering an email of another resident, and then sending it out to others, in an attempt to tilt a March 2016 school board election in his wife’s favor. Shortly before Furlong was scheduled to go on trial earlier this year, authorities withdraw the original charges and filed new ones, including forgery. As a result, Judge Michael dismissed all criminal charges, agreeing with Furlong’s attorney that the new ones were different enough from the first that there was not enough time to develop a proper defense.
At last week’s hearing, Judge Michael agreed to reconsider his decision based on a formal request from the New Hampshire attorney general’s office.
(Furlong’s attorney) said that authorities could have done a more thorough investigation initially and that part of the reason for a statute of limitation is to discourage insufficient police work.
James Vera, an associate attorney general, argued that changing the specific criminal charges against Furlong didn’t alter the conduct that implicated him in the criminal behavior. “The state has added no facts that are different (in the new charges),” Vera told the judge. “The arguments are the same and the facts are the same.”
James Rosenberg, Furlong’s attorney, said that since the charges were altered, his defense had to be altered, and that the judge was right in his initial decision to dismiss them because the statute of limitations had run out.
“This is not the same conduct,” Rosenberg said, noting that the original charges did not include information about an alleged accomplice as the later ones did. “You can’t escape the way the state set forth the charges. The state declared, you’re acting alone.”
“Somebody hit the button (to send the email),” Judge Michael commented, adding that whether Furlong actually pushed the “send” button or otherwise played a prominent role in the altered email incident might not be especially significant. “He may have encouraged it or otherwise set in motion,” the judge said, reviewing the state’s argument.
Rosenberg said the original charges indicated that Furlong had “invented” the alleged accomplice as a way to dodge responsibility. He said that authorities could have done a more thorough investigation initially and that part of the reason for a statute of limitation is to discourage insufficient police work.
The central issue is how the court interprets Furlong’s specific conduct, the judge said. If it is basically the same as what’s outlined in the original charges, then the Sunapee man did have enough time to mount a defense and the charges will be reinstated. If not, the court’s dismissal of all charges will stand.
“I’m going to think about this,” Michael added at the hearing’s conclusion. “I’m going to try to be fair, knowing that one side won’t be happy (with my decision).”
The judge said he would issue his ruling as soon as possible.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper in Sutton, N.H. on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017.