Ex-chief in court over vote to end job

LYNDEBOROUGH – The ongoing legal battle between the town and its former police chief is scheduled to continue today.

Former Police Chief James Basinas was removed from his post in December 2007 after residents voted to rescind the police chief’s position.

Basinas is challenging the legality of that vote. His case is scheduled for a preliminary hearing at 1:30 p.m. today in Hillsborough County Superior Court North in Manchester.

Both sides have appealed to Judge James Barry for a summary judgment in their favor. It’s possible the judge may make a decision on granting a judgment at the hearing.

If he wins, Basinas said he could be reinstated.

If there is no decision, the trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 27 in the same court.

The ballot vote in 2007 was 130-73 in favor of scrapping the police chief position, effective Jan 1, 2008.

The vote appeared to put an end to a long-running fight between selectmen and Basinas.

Basinas was hired as the town’s police chief in October 2003 and placed on leave for the first time in February 2007. He was fired in April. According to court documents, some of the reasons selectmen cited for his dismissal – all of which Basinas disputed – were failing to provide adequate station coverage, conducting internal investigations in a discriminatory manner, failing to abide by the town’s purchasing policy, failing to maintain department equipment in operable condition and possibly stealing a radio from another police department. Basinas maintained the radio was a gift.

Basinas sued the town to challenge his firing.

In November 2007, Barry ruled that Basinas could return to work and remain on the job until a hearing determined his fate.

After Basinas was reinstated, all Lyndeborough police officers walked off the job and police chiefs from surrounding communities withdrew mutual aid.

From mid-November until the end of December, when voters abolished the police chief position during a special town meeting, Basinas ran the police department single-handedly, depending on state and county police departments for backup.

The town and chief settled out of court on Feb. 8, 2008, three days before the scheduled trial on the legality of his firing. Under the terms of the settlement, Basinas, received about $53,000 including back pay and legal fees. Costs relating to the lawsuit were paid by the town’s insurance carrier.

Later that month, Basinas filed a new lawsuit, claiming the vote to eliminate the chief’s position violated state law. That lawsuit will be addressed at today’s hearing.

Basinas’ attorney, Andru Volinsky, claims that the vote didn’t have the authority to remove Basinas from the job.

Volinsky described the vote in court documents as an attempt by the town to avoid having to deal with the reinstatement hearing.

He noted that two budget committee members, Kevin Boette and Michael DeCubellis, were responsible for the petition warrant article. Selectman Lorraine Strube was the board’s liaison to the budget committee and had also been under investigation by Basinas.

Volinsky also argues the town used the wrong state law to claim that Basinas’ job was terminated properly. Volinsky argues the law the town is using applies to firing elected police chiefs, not appointed police chiefs like Basinas.

Further, Volinsky argues that the law the town cites only allows voters to rescind the position at the annual town meeting, not a special town meeting such as the one held in December.

However, the town’s lawyer, Mark Broth, argues the warrant article was legitimate because it was brought by residents seeking to rescind the position, not eliminate Basinas. He wrote that the budget committee members were concerned with reducing town spending.

The town also argues that Basinas accepted severance pay when the position was cut, which eliminated his right to sue again.

Since being removed from office, Basinas said he has been studying for his master’s degree, focusing on criminal justice and business administration.

“You have to stay busy,” he said.

Daymond Steer can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 31, or dsteer@cabinet.com.