CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the reprimand of an auctioneer who put in a fake bid to help a colleague drive up the price of a painting.
The court rejected Brian French’s argument that the New Hampshire Board of Auctioneers did not have the authority to punish him, and agreed with the board’s findings that French’s conduct was unprofessional and dishonorable.
Rick Lehmann, who represents the Warner auctioneer, said the appeal was brought on principle and not to dodge probation because French has already served the probation. Lehmann said his client continues to work as an auctioneer.
“Nothing Harold French did cost a purchaser a dollar more than they would have paid or was anything other than an attempt to help procure the minimum reserve price on behalf of the seller,” Lehmann said. “Everything he did was in good faith. I think that’s why the board gave him the lowest level of punishment they can mete out.”
Criminal charges of collusive bidding and conspiracy are pending against French, who has been an auctioneer for 35 years.
The board reprimanded French, 53, and put him on probation for a year after finding that he bid $9,500 on a nautical painting at a 2009 auction to help auctioneer Stephen Bennett meet the minimum bid price of $10,000. No one bid higher and French claimed that rendered his act harmless. The board concluded French never intended to purchase the painting and sanctioned him for deceiving other bidders.
The board also suspended Bennett’s license for 90 days and placed him on probation for two years.
The vintage oil painting was done by American artist S. F. M. Badger, who died in 1913. The painting’s owner set the reserve at $10,000 and would not lift it prior to the start of bidding. According to court documents, Bennett asked French to bid on the painting if the reserve was not met. When the bidding reached $9,000, French bid $9,500.
The board found the owner knew nothing of the agreement to drive bidding beyond the reserve price.