AYER -- Imprisoned for the last three weeks, Hugh Ernisse of Ayer, 81, groused to Ayer District Court Judge David Cunis on Friday that he lost eyesight in one eye and has lost regular contact with his attorney while imprisoned at MCI-Concord.
The Ayer landlord was in court for a pretrial conference on charges related to the alleged violation of a restraining order and witness intimidation.
Ernisse was sporting a full white beard, an oversized white T-shirt, baggy green sweat pants, black sneakers and ankle shackles. Ernisse suggested "diet, maybe" is responsible for his loss of vision in one eye while behind bars.
Ernisse stated that he'd represent himself at the court date, since his attorney, John O'Neil of Lowell, was not present due to a vacation. "I thought he'd be back today," said Ernisse.
Assistant District Attorney Felicia Sullivan said that O'Neil knew of Ernisse's court date but added, "I'm not sure if he'll be here."
Ernisse ultimately suggested the court move forward, saying he felt qualified to represent himself.
Ernisse said O'Neil's presence has "turned into a financial matter," adding that O'Neil "seems to be implying that my payment is necessary" before legal representation would begin.
Ernisse said O'Neil "hasn't contacted me at Concord in over three weeks." Nonetheless, Ernisse said O'Neil is a "nice man" who had to untangle the "difficulties of my case."
Cunis said, "You do have a lawyer" since O'Neil
Ernisse reported he collects a veteran's benefit, Social Security income and rent from tenants. However Ernisse said his homes are in foreclosure and that he's declared bankruptcy. "I'm a million dollars in debt at 81 years old."
Ernisse says he houses people who were previously imprisoned and/or who have substance-abuse problems.
Instead of dealing with the bevy of interrelated charges, Cunis held over the pretrail conference until July 18. Cunis intimated that Ernisse would face two new, unspecified arraignments at that future court date.
Ernisse remains held from his June 13 arrest by Ayer Police. Ernisse was arrested while seated in the courthouse lobby after a female tenant of his Williams Street home reported Ernisse threatened her earlier that morning as the two headed to court on her attempt to obtain a restraining order against him.
The woman alleged that Ernisse drove up along side her at the intersection of Main and Columbia streets, warning the woman to go home. The woman claims Ernisse produced a dress stolen from the woman's daughter and said that he keeps the dress as a reminder of the daughter's "sweet, sexy smell."
Before driving off, the woman states Ernisse warned "you will pay" if she reported the incident to police. The woman did call Ayer Police, who arrested Ernisse shortly thereafter. Ernisse has denied the charges. Ernisse has been held without bail ever since.
The woman had reported that that someone was crouched down in the car next to Ernisse during the June 13 roadside interaction. Police alleged the passenger was Ayer Selectman Frank Maxant, who lives in the same Williams Street home.
Maxant has steadfastly maintained that he was not in the vehicle with Ernisse. Maxant was seated in the front row of the gallery in court on Friday.
The same woman tenant had earlier sought a restraining order against Ernisse. In February, the woman reported to Ayer police that Ernisse exposed himself and made sexually inappropriate gestures and comments to her and her 18-year-old daughter, when arguing with the daughter over payment of rent.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.