The flower pot was decorated with ladybugs. It was a gift from Kimberly Chen to the now-deceased wife of Bob Buffington. And today, Manchester District Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland ruled that Chen heaved it roughly 30 feet at Buffington, making her guilty of misdemeanor assault. He ordered her to pay a $50 fine.
It’s the latest chapter in the neighborhood dispute over Buffington’s Church Hill coffee shop, Captain Buzzy’s Beanery, and his attempt to secure a city permit that would have allowed him to serve beer and wine and stay open an extra hour until 10 p.m.
Buffington lodged a $3.35 million lawsuit yesterday against Chen and three other opponents of his efforts to obtain the permit, charging they conspired to take over the Church Hill Association and relied on “defamation, misrepresentation [and] unethical conduct” to thwart his application.
Regarding Chen, the suit charges that she held a grudge against Buffington because “among other things, she does not believe Buffington grieved enough when his wife died of cancer in December 2011.” Both parties testified in court today that Chen and Buffington’s wife were close friends.
The flower-pot throwing incident took place Sept. 14, in the midst of the rancorous debate that led up to City Council’s vote in late October to deny Buffington’s permit request. Opponents argued that it would change the character of the neighborhood.
Most of the facts in the case were undisputed: The flower pot was decorated with ladybugs. Chen gave it to Buffington’s deceased wife. On the afternoon in question Buffington walked across 27th Street from his shop to Chen’s house to return the pot. Chen was outside her house doing yard work. Chen told Buffington she didn’t want it. Buffington set the pot on a curb and told her to throw it away. Chen instead threw the pot roughly 30 feet into the middle of the street where it broke.
That’s where the accounts diverge. Chen testified she asked Buffington not to leave the pot on the curb. When she threw the pot, she said Buffington was on the other side of the street and 30 feet away from where it hit.
“There was no intent to hit Mr. Buffington,” argued Chen’s lawyer, Amy Austin. “She simply broke the flower pot in the middle of the street.”
Buffington testified that the pot “grazed his ear” as he was crossing the street with his back turned to Chen.
A witness, Paul Iwashchenko, told the judge he saw the pot land about three feet away from Buffington. He said he was at Buzzy’s and started paying attention to the two when he heard “loud expletives and an array of comments.”
“This isn’t an accident -- she aimed the pot,” a lawyer with the commonwealth’s attorney’s office told the judge. “She aimed this projectile at him and threw it.”
Before issuing his ruling, Thorne-Begland disclosed that he’s a “patron of this coffee shop from time to time,” but Chen’s attorney agreed that didn’t merit recusal. The judge said he found Chen guilty of the assault because there was sufficient evidence that Chen’s actions had “placed Mr. Buffington in reasonable fear.”
Before ordering Chen to pay a $50 fine, Thorne-Begland said that if the law permitted it, he would have taken the case under advisement rather than issuing a guilty verdict.
After the trial, Buffington declined to comment, while Austin said she would appeal Chen’s case to circuit court. She said Chen wouldn’t comment on the case or the lawsuit filed Monday.
The witness, Iwashchenko, shook his head as he walked out of the courthouse. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “A childhood argument.”