CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – A retired judge has been appointed to investigate how missed court deadlines led to the release of two men prosecutors tried to keep locked up as sexually violent predators.

Raymond Fournier, 40, and Richard Hilton, 34, were released because a judge took too long to recommend that they be civilly committed to the secure psychiatric unit at the state prison in Concord after completing their criminal sentences. A third man, Wayne Sawyer, 45, was expected to be released soon because of a similar delay.

Once a prosecutor files a petition seeking to have an offender civilly committed, a judge has 10 days to determine whether there is probable cause to justify the request and 60 days to hold a trial. Judges agreed the men should be held – but they missed the deadlines, and the cases were dismissed.

“This is obviously of great concern to all of us in the justice system, and to the public,” Superior Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn wrote in a letter dated Thursday confirming the appointment of Senior Judge Bruce Mohl to investigate the cases.

Mohl, a former deputy attorney general, retired as a judge in 2007 but handles cases when asked.

He will review the case files and procedures, interview judges, court staff and lawyers and make recommendations to Lynn by June 30.

Judge Larry Smukler, who dismissed both the Fournier and Hilton cases, said in his rulings that the delays were not the fault of the defense or prosecutors.

Lynn, in an earlier letter laying down new rules for handling such cases, said the clerk’s office failed to bring the petitions to the attention of a judge within the 10-day timeframe, but also suggested prosecutors should have reminded the court about the deadline.

On Wednesday, the state Senate passed legislation that would allow prosecutors to file emergency petitions if deadlines were getting close, and to bring someone back for a civil commitment hearing up to six months after his or her release.

AP-ES-04-09-09 1746EDT

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