Judge slates ex-Lebanon cop for stalking trial despite objections of defendant, alleged victim


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-24-2022 1:45 PM

LEBANON — A court hearing that was anticipated to address the fate of a former Lebanon police officer charged with cyberstalking an ex-girlfriend was upended Wednesday after prosecutors decided to take the case to trial, despite objections by attorneys for both the defendant and the alleged victim, who said their clients supported an alternative resolution that had been in discussion among the parties.

Richard Smolenski, a former Lebanon police lieutenant, is charged with a single misdemeanor count of stalking a former girlfriend, a New Hampshire corrections officer, and sending her messages under fake online accounts threatening to release explicit information about their relationship.

Smolenski, who has pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence, appeared for a hearing on Wednesday in Lebanon District Court where it was anticipated that the judge would act on an order to place his case “on file.” That means Smolenski would have avoided a conviction providing he adhered to certain conditions for at least a year, such as staying away from the alleged victim and not applying for another law enforcement job.

But Assistant Belknap County Attorney Alexander Smeaton dashed those expectations when he announced at the outset of the hearing that prosecutors instead wanted to proceed to trial on the charge. Smeaton pointed to a media report published online the prior evening that stated the alleged victim wanted the case to go to trial and objected to the deal that prosecutors were negotiating with defense attorneys.

The prosecution is being handled out of the Belknap County because of potential conflict of interest issues that would arise with Grafton County attorneys, who would have worked with Smolenski to prosecute his cases when he was a police officer.

Although attorneys for both Smolenski and the woman said the news article was inaccurate, Lebanon District Court Judge Michael Garner nonetheless granted the state’s request for trial, noting after listening to 20 minutes of alternating attorney statements “there seems to be at least some ambiguity in the victim’s position vis-a-vis a resolution in this case.”

Smolenski and the woman were both present at the hearing and afterward the woman was visibly upset as she exited the courtroom with her attorney and a group of supporters.

During the hearing, Robin Melone, attorney for the alleged victim, said her client had been included in the negotiations between prosecutors and Smolenski and it was everyone’s expectation that the matter before the court on Wednesday would be for the judge to approve the “on file” agreement.

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“My client wants this to move forward today, not as a gift or favor or a benefit to Mr. Smolenski, but because she needs this process to be done,” Melone said.

Tony DiPadova, the Claremont criminal defense attorney representing Smolenski, said his client was expecting the same.

DiPadova said his client “was approached by the state with this offer to have it placed on file without a finding, so there’s no admission, no finding of guilt if he complied with certain conditions, which he agreed to. He was prepared to do that today and then was pulled at the last minute by the state.”

And the assistant county attorney’s request for trial also introduced a potentially thorny legal question into the case with Garner quizzing the attorneys if he in fact had the authority to enforce the “on file” agreement as they had requested without a finding over the state’s decision to revoke it and before the trial has taken place.

Judge Garner ordered the parties to submit a memorandum on the issue within 10 days, inviting the state to join “if they wish” and for a two-day trial to be scheduled no sooner than 60 days.

Melone attributed part of the confusion during Wednesday’s hearing to Belknap County Attorney Andrew Livernois, who is leading the prosecution, having been tied up in another court matter and the assistant county attorney not being able to reach him for consultation during a break at Smolenski’s Lebanon hearing.

She said hopes he will “reconsider” the decision to go to trial after he has reviewed Wednesday’s hearing.

Melone said that while her client is let down in how prosecutors “charged” the case against Smolenski and “does not feel she has been treated well as a victim in the criminal legal system,” her client sees the negotiated agreement as giving her agency in a matter that has caused deep pain.

“This is not what (my client) wanted to see as a result in this case,” Melone said via email to the Valley News about going to trial. “But she supports the resolution and is very upset about what has transpired over the last 24 hours, in effect, taking away the one choice she was given in this matter.”

Contact John Lippman at jippman@vnews.com.

CORRECTION: Lebanon  District Court holds only bench trials with a judge. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the type of trial.