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Circuit Court judge receives reprimand for rule violation

Staff Report
April 25. 2013 11:06PM

MANCHESTER - Circuit Court-Manchester District Division Judge William Lyons has been publicly reprimanded by the state of New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee for not disqualifying himself from a criminal case in which his brother-in-law was the victim of an assault.

The committee made its ruling after investigating a grievance filed in June 2012 by the brother-in-law, Manchester High School Central teacher Ed Kissell.

Kissell alleged Lyons deliberately violated a rule regarding disqualification on or about Jan. 6, 2011, when he "set bail parameters for the two students that attacked me (Kissell) even though I (Mr. Kissell) had pressed charges."

Judges are required to disqualify themselves when a person "within the third degree of relationship" to the judge, a spouse or domestic partner is likely to be a material witness. Kissell is married to the sister of Lyons' wife.

The committee acknowledged Lyons tried to act fairly, didn't know about the Kissell involvement until the morning of the arraignment, and operates in a busy court.

But it expressed concern: "Judge Lyons' rulings in the case subsequent to his recusal run contrary to established law and may otherwise fail to promote the public's confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,"

The students had been arrested at the high school Jan. 6, 2011, after allegedly causing a disturbance; one student was accused of charging Kissell and punching him in the face. That student, Jose Ramos, then 17 and of 1414 Elm St., was charged with simple assault, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and contempt of court.

Ramos had previously been charged with disorderly conduct and was his bail conditions barred contact with Kissell.

Circuit Court-Manchester District Division records show Ramos was convicted in April 2011 of the assault and disorderly conduct charges and the others were dropped.

Kissell could not be reached for comment about why he filed the complaint.

According to the Judicial Conduct Committee report, Lyons properly disqualified himself from hearing testimony from Kissell in the case of the student charged with assault, or the case of the other student, because of his relationship with Kissell.

But Lyons decided that he could conduct the arraignment, because he had no conflict with the state, which was bringing the charges, or the student.

And when the second student was arraigned on or about Jan. 30, 2011, on a bench warrant, Lyons again decided he could ethically preside over the bail hearing, although he recused himself from that case as well.

Despite the recusal, Lyons later approved two motions for interpreter services, because he believed he was performing "ministerial services" in granting the public defender's request and did not violate the recusal.

The committee disagreed, saying the only "ministerial acts" he should have done were transferring the cases to another judge. It also faulted Lyons for not informing the defendants or their lawyers of the relationship with Kissell.

The committee determined the violations were not sufficiently serious to warrant formal discipline, but did warrant a public reprimand, to which Lyons consented.

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