'Birther' meeting canceled
Attorney general to investigate conduct
Yesterday's scheduled meeting between House Speaker Bill O'Brien and a group of lawmakers contesting President Obama's American citizenship was canceled in light of a request by the attorney general that the state police investigate the representatives' "unruly and aggressive" conduct at a hearing last week.
O'Brien sent an email to legislators Monday evening to call off yesterday's 1 p.m. meeting pending the outcome of investigations into the way House members behaved in the aftermath of the state Ballot Law Commission's unanimous decision Friday to leave Obama on the ballot in New Hampshire's Democratic primary. Republican legislators and other attendees shouted their displeasure at the five-member commission and Assistant Attorney General Matt Mavrogeorge before requesting a meeting with the speaker to discuss their frustration.
O'Brien said he canceled the meeting after discussing the incident with Attorney General Michael Delaney. Delaney had written a letter to state police Col. Robert Quinn relaying his concern that Mavrogeorge had feared for his safety.
"No state employee should find himself in this situation, and I am asking the General Court to take whatever steps it deems appropriate concerning the standards of conduct exhibited by these elected officials," Delaney wrote.
Nine Republican House members have signed on to a complaint filed by California lawyer Orly Taitz that sought to remove Obama from the ballot based on allegations that his birth certificate and Social Security number are fake. Taitz says she will try to appeal the commission's decision to the state Supreme Court.
Attached to Delaney's letter was a four-page memo by Mavrogeorge, who argued on behalf of Secretary of State Bill Gardner's decision to place Obama on the ballot.
Mavrogeorge said Rep. Susan DeLemus of Rochester came over following his closing argument and demanded that he answer "whether the United States Constitution trumps New Hampshire's laws regarding the qualifications for president." Mavrogeorge said he told DeLemus he was "just trying to do my job," but DeLemus continued to raise her voice and get closer to his face as she demanded a response from him in writing.
The situation was "getting ugly," Mavrogeorge said, so he suggested to his client, Assistant Secretary of State Karen Ladd, that they walk to the State House to prepare for the subsequent hearings. But Mavrogeorge said they were stopped in the hallway by DeLemus and Rep. Harry Accornero of Laconia, who promised to follow them across the street because Accornero said they were "demanding answers to why this liar was being allowed on the ballot."
"At this point I knew there was no way that we were going to be able to leave the Legislative Office Building without having an angry mob following us to the State House," Mavrogeorge wrote.
Looking to his left, Mavrogeorge said Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry was silently "staring at me with an angry look on his face."
"I did not know what these people were capable of in the state of mind that they were in at the time," Mavrogeorge said.
Mavrogeorge recalled ducking into a nearby room with Ladd and calling Delaney's office and State House security for help. Members of the crowd yelled and banged on the door, he said.
Eventually the commission called everybody back into the hearing room to announce their decision to reject the complaint, spurring cries of protest.
"Saying a treasonous liar can go on our ballot?" yelled Accornero. "You're going to have to face the citizens of Laconia. You better wear a mask."
Mavrogeorge wrote that "never in my life have I witnessed such appalling behavior by anyone, let alone elected officials."
"They showed a complete lack of respect for me as an Assistant Attorney General and as a human being," he wrote. "Yesterday was the first time in my professional career that I felt that my safety was in danger."
Colin Manning, spokesman for Gov. John Lynch, said the "disgraceful" conduct at the hearing deserves investigation.
"A line has been crossed in terms of civility and decorum that cannot be tolerated," he said.
In his email to the lawmakers, O'Brien said he has requested Randy Joyner, head of State House security, review the incident and issue a report.
"Please provide both Protective Services and the State Police your full cooperation and candor should they contact you," O'Brien wrote.
Accornero said yesterday he does not believe the investigations are necessary.
"A lot of us were - I wouldn't even say angry, but just upset about how the system works," he said. "People have a right to express their opinion."
Accornero said O'Brien should have listened to him and the other legislators at yesterday's meeting before siding with Delaney's request. An investigation will just magnify the incident, he said.
"They said they don't want to make a big thing about this because we're embarrassing the Legislature, but they're doing more harm than good," he said.
(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)