By Doug Ireland
---- — BRENTWOOD — A bomb threat closed the Rockingham County courthouse for nearly three hours yesterday, creating delays and confusion.
More than 100 residents, lawyers and court employees waited in the cold as a team of 20 investigators and three state police dogs searched the building and grounds, Sheriff Michael Downing said.
The threat was called in to 911 at 8:54 a.m., prompting court officials to immediately evacuate the three-story building, Downing said.
Nothing was found inside, Downing said. Authorities did recover a metal cylinder, similar to a Thermos, near a storage bin behind the courthouse, but determined it was not related to the threat.
Bailiffs ordered the public to remain at least 100 feet from the building’s front door, asking some people to move their cars. Court employees gathered in a side parking lot. Most of the crowded retreated to the warmth of their cars as a cold rain began to fall about 9:30 a.m.
While some attorneys reviewed paperwork in their cars, others met with clients, often leaving the engine running to keep warm. One juror sat in his Jeep, eating sunflower seeds and tossing the shells out the window.
Those still standing in the rain and bitter chill wondered when the courthouse would reopen. Bailiffs told them it would remain closed for an hour or two.
“It’s unfortunate, but what can you do?” said Dave Rogers, 62, of Derry.
Rogers had just stopped off at the registry of deeds office when everyone inside the building was ordered outside.
Attorney Faye Goldberg of Casassa and Ryanwas handling a marital case when she was forced to evacuate.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that nothing will happen, but you have to take these things seriously,” she said.
As the morning wore on, people grew impatient, including Randy Young of Exeter, who was in court for a marital case.
“The dockets are already backed up,” he said. “Who knows when we will get back in?”
The courthouse reopened at about 11:45 a.m. While some expressed relief, there was still confusion as many people, including lawyers, questioned whether their cases were merely delayed or postponed to another day.
Public defender Devens Hamlen was still waiting to learn at 12:45 p.m. whether his case would be heard.
“It’s ruined my day,” he said. “We’re pretty much behind by three hours.”
Superior Court Clerk Raymond Taylor said no criminal cases were postponed and some jurors would be asked to serve beyond the regular three or four days.
“It does push everything back,” he said. “Does it have an impact? Absolutely. But we will make it work.”
For Tim Barker, 40, of Brentwood the three-hour delay was expensive.
Barker, who took time off from work, had gone to court for a 10-minute hearing to schedule a date in his divorce case when he and his lawyer were forced to evacuate. But the attorney couldn’t wait around because he had a case in another court. Barker said he would still have to pay the lawyer $300.
“The effect of this cost me,” he said.
Barker later learned his case was postponed for three months.
Downing said the threat remains under investigation. Local and state police responded to the incident, along with investigators from the the sheriff’s department and the FBI, he said.