Lebanon Judge Leaves Bench: Cirone Oversaw Circuit Court for More Than 25 Years
Albert Cirone Jr. works at his law office in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 28, 2014 — after working as a circuit court judge for 25 years, Cirone retired from the bench in mid-January. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Judge Albert Cirone Jr. speaks during a hearing in Lebanon District Court on Feb. 12, 2008. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Albert Cirone Jr. looks over paperwork with his leagal secretary Debbie Judd at his law office in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 28, 2014. After serving as a circuit court judge for 25 years, Cirone retired from the bench in mid-January. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — During Judge Albert J. Cirone Jr.’s 25 1/2 years on the bench in the 2nd Circuit Court in Lebanon, prosecutors learned what to expect.
So when the judge ordered a juvenile offender to write a paper about lemmings, Cirone said he could see prosecutors roll their eyes. Lemmings are rodents that run in herds, following each other at great lengths, even after the first one jumps off a cliff.
Cirone, 65, often assigned such papers as part of sentencing and told defendants that not only would he read the papers, but he also would correct the grammar and measure the margins.
“I wanted them not only to do a little thinking, but I thought it would inconvenience them a little more than a $100 fine,” Cirone said.
Cirone’s last day on the bench was earlier this month, and an open house will be held for him from 3 to 6 p.m. today at the Lebanon courthouse on Centerra Parkway.
During his tenure, Cirone was known to be strict, with little patience for repeat offenders.
He was especially stringent about dress code and often told defendants who weren’t dressed appropriately to return at a later date when they were better dressed.
Cirone said he didn’t mind a working class outfit, such as a greasy mechanics uniform, but he wouldn’t tolerate anyone wearing shorts in his courtroom or what he defines as “recreational garb.”
Despite his stern demeanor, Cirone also has a fierce sense of humor.
On one occasion, a young man walked into his courtroom wearing what looked like capri pants. Cirone scolded him and ordered the bailiff to fetch his father from the hall. When Cirone told the boy’s father that he didn’t approve of his outfit, the father said that he warned the boy that he was not dressed appropriately.
The father explained that when they arrived at the courthouse, which was then in City Hall, he took his son to the restroom and made the boy exchange outfits with him because the father was wearing pants. However, the father was noticeably shorter than his son, so when the boy put on his pants, they only came a little past his knees.
“It was so funny,” Cirone said in an interview in his office earlier this week. “The whole place burst out laughing.”
Cirone’s job, however, was at times decidedly unfunny.
The family received death threats twice, which led to investigations by the FBI and State Police.
The night of the Zantop murders, Cirone’s home was filled with the attorney general and state police investigators who needed Cirone to authorize search warrants.
This month, Cirone filled a box with mementos and brought it from the courthouse to his law office, and among the items in the box were copies of decisions he issued when news outlets were filing motions to unseal search warrants in the case. He said he was proud of those decisions and remembers making copies of affidavits and using a marker to black out sections he thought shouldn’t be made public.
Cirone called himself strict when it came to sentencing, and Christopher O’Connor, who is a prosecutor for Hanover and several other Upper Valley towns, said repeat offenders who knew him did not look forward to appearing before him.
“To some extent, he used the bench as a bully pulpit for defendants who needed it, who were headed in the wrong direction and needed a reality check,” Lebanon attorney Charlie Buttrey said.
But he wasn’t without compassion.
Cirone was impressed by people who held a steady job and were obviously trying to turn their lives around. If an offender had a job, Cirone said he would try to structure the sentence so that he didn’t lose it, perhaps requiring him to report to prison on his days off.
At the same time, if someone was convicted of marijuana possession, Cirone might sentence him to $500 for the first offense, $750 for a second offence, but if there was a third offense, the defendant likely received a suspended jail sentence.
“I’m a straight shooter,” Cirone said. “If you’re dealing with me, you’ll never get a curve ball. They’ll always be fastballs and you’ll know where I’m coming from.”
Cirone and his wife, Nanci, sat down for an interview earlier this week in Cirone’s office, and Cirone spoke warmly of his clients and laughed heartily as he recalled memories of his tenure on the bench.
“Every time I was there, you listened carefully, you spoke to them, you gave them a chance to speak and you made sure they understood,” Nanci Cirone said to her husband in his office.
Throughout his judgeship, Cirone maintained his private law practice, where he focuses on transaction law, such as real estate, wills, trusts, estate planning and contract, commercial and corporate work.
Cirone balanced working part-time as a judge two to three days a week and spent the rest of the week — and many Saturdays — working at his private practice. Now that he’s retiring, he plans to shift his attention full time to his own practice.
Cirone was also highly involved in the community. He served as a member of the Mascoma Valley Regional School Board from 1976 to 1981 and he was a board member of the Upper Valley Regional Training Center, which assisted people with developmental disabilities. He organized a fundraiser that allowed money raised at the Governor’s Breakfast that kicked off the NASCAR weekends to be donated to David’s House and the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth.
His community ties are what made him such an excellent judge, said George Ostler, a Norwich based attorney.
“It’s important for a judge to have a feel for the community, and he did, and therefore he could dispense some very fair justice,” Ostler said.
Cirone wanted to understand people, Ostler said, was fair and listened to everyone in the courtroom and issued reasoned decisions. Most of the clients Ostler worked with said they felt they were treated fairly in his court, whether they were found guilty or not.
Buttrey, the Lebanon attorney, also said he’s represented clients more than a thousand times in front of Cirone.
“I think a sign of an effective judge is that when he or she disagrees with you, you still feel like you’ve been heard, and I think that can be said of him,” Buttrey said.
O’Connor, the prosecutor, practiced in front of Cirone for more than 10 years, and said there were many opportunities for Cirone’s decisions to make case law when they were handed up to the Supreme Court.
For example, a police officer once found a vehicle parked in West Lebanon, O’Connor recalled, and the officer approached, knocked on the car window, evaluated the driver and eventually arrested him for a DWI. The defense attorney argued that the officer didn’t have enough cause to arrest him, but Cirone disagreed. The defense appealed Cirone’s decision, but ultimately the Supreme Court upheld Cirone’s ruling.
But O’Connor said he also enjoyed Cirone’s presence in the courtroom and his ability to put a nervous defendant at ease.
“I think most of all, I think I’ll probably miss his sense of humor,” O’Connor said. “There were many times after a court session, he would take the time to take off his robe and just talk to us afterward. It wasn’t about that day’s docket, it could be anything.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.