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Judge rejects request to overturn $38 million verdict in New Hampshire Youth Center abuse case

The judge who presided over a landmark trial against New Hampshire's juvenile detention center has refused to overturn the $38 million verdict, saying the facility's management “either knew and didn't care or didn't care.” “was to learn the truth” about widespread physical and sexual abuse.

A jury earlier this month sided with David Meehan, who claimed he was repeatedly raped, beaten and held in solitary confinement at a youth development center in the 1990s. The Attorney General's Office is seeking a drastic reduction in the arbitration award. While this issue remains unresolved, the state also asked Judge Andrew Schulman to vacate the verdict and enter judgment in its favor.

In a motion filed last week, prosecutors again argued that Meehan waited too long to sue and that he failed to prove that the state's negligence led to abuse. Schulman promptly denied the motion, ruling in less than 24 hours that Meehan's claims were timely under an exception to the statute of limitations and that Meehan had demonstrated “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the state breached its duty of care regarding staff training and supervision have and discipline.

According to Schulman, a jury could have easily found that the facility's management was “at best willfully blind to deep-rooted and widespread customs and practices,” which included frequent sexual and physical assaults and “constant emotional abuse of residents.”

“There may be more to the story, but the court records have proven liability for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty with absolute certainty,” he wrote.

Michael Garrity, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said Wednesday that the motion was intended to preserve the arguments the state made at trial for possible appeal.

Meehan, 42, went to police in 2017 and sued the state three years later. Since then, 11 former state employees have been arrested and more than 1,100 other former residents of what is now the Sununu Youth Services Center have filed lawsuits alleging physical, sexual and emotional abuse spanning six decades. Charges against a former worker, Frank Davis, were dropped earlier this month after the 82-year-old was found to be unfit to stand trial.

Meehan's lawsuit was the first to go to trial. For four weeks, his lawyers claimed the state was promoting a culture of abuse marked by pervasive brutality, corruption and a code of silence. The state portrayed Meehan as a violent child, troubled teenager and delusional adult who lies to get money.

The jury awarded him $18 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in enhanced compensatory damages. When asked how many incidents the state was liable for, they answered “one.” That triggered the state's request to reduce compensation based on a state law that allows plaintiffs to recover a maximum of $475,000 per claim against the state.

Meehan's lawyers say several emails they received from distraught jurors showed the jury misunderstood that question on the jury form. They filed a motion Monday asking Schulman to set aside only the portion of the verdict in which the jury wrote of “one” incident, so that the $38 million would stand. Alternatively, the judge could order a new trial based solely on the number of incidents or offer the state the opportunity to agree to an increase in the number of incidents, they wrote.

Two weeks ago, Schulman rejected a request from Meehan's lawyers to reconvene and question the jury, but said he was open to other ways to address the controversial verdict. A hearing is scheduled for June 24.

Copyright 2024 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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