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N.H. court reduces guards’ $2m award

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / July 1, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Supreme Court rolled back a $2 million award yesterday to two prison guards who were fired based on false reports, saying state law caps the amount of money they can recover.

The court ruled unanimously that state law limits damages for any claim against the state to $475,000.

In May 2008, a jury awarded Tim Hallam $1.3 million and Joseph Laramie $650,000 in damages after they lost their jobs when two other guards misrepresented their roles in a 2005 assault on an inmate.

The inmate initially told prison officials the other two guards involved in forcibly extracting him from a cell were the ones who assaulted him. When prison investigators interviewed everyone involved, their stories changed and resulted in the firings of Hallam and Laramie in July 2005.

The state labor appeals board ordered both men reinstated in 2006, but Hallam has remained out on medical disability. The trial judge, in affirming the jury’s verdict in 2008, said Hallam deserved a larger award, in part because he had overcome a number of mental problems and considered his prison position to be the perfect job. Superior Court Judge David Sullivan said at the time he thought Laramie’s award was on the high side, but not excessively so, noting the case had contributed to the breakdown of his marriage and caused him ongoing hardship at work.

The Supreme Court also ordered a new trial on the amount Hallam should be awarded, saying the jury did not have enough evidence to calculate lost earning capacity.

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