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In interview, NH Attorney General Delaney says he's ready to move on

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 19. 2013 9:57PM
Attorney General Michael Delaney, right, speaks at the annual meeting of the Hundred Club of New Hampshire, which raises money to support widows and children of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty. (UNION LEADER FILE)

Michael Delaney announced Tuesday he was not interested in a second term as attorney general, a surprise move that has lawyers pondering his future, one party leader thinking about campaigns, and another partisan speculating what could be behind the 11th-hour announcement.

In an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, Delaney said the decision was his own to leave state government after 14 years.

"I've reached the point in my career where returning to the private practice of law is the right thing for me and my family," said Delaney, who earns $116,200 a year as attorney general. Delaney made his announcement with less than two weeks left on his current term.

Delaney said he agreed to Gov. Maggie Hassan's request that he stay on after his term ends March 31 to oversee a transition. He anticipated that will keep him in the office into April.

Speculation quickly rose that Hassan had opted not to reappoint Delaney to a four-year term. Republican Party Chairman Jennifer Horn commended Delaney, a Democrat, for his courage and integrity for opposing Hassan's "fiscally irresponsible casino revenue scheme."

"As Democratic Governor John Lynch demonstrated when he twice reappointed a Republican as attorney general, governors put aside politics and political score-settling when selecting New Hampshire's top law enforcement official," Horn said in a statement. "It is sad and unfortunate that Governor Hassan may have decided to ignore this important tradition."

Delaney insisted that the decision to leave was his. For her part, Hassan issued a statement lauding Delaney for the integrity, strength and resolve he brought to the job and saying she appreciated his counsel.

"She would have been happy if he could have stayed on," said Hassan spokesman, Marc Goldberg.

Term highlights

Delaney said the highlights of his four years as attorney general include the successful prosecution of Stephen Spader and Christopher Gribble in the Mont Vernon home-invasion murder of Kimberly Cates, and the attempted murder verdict against Myles Webster in the 2012 shooting of Manchester police officer Dan Doherty.

Delaney also successfully argued a criminal case before the U.S. Supreme Court that dealt with eyewitness identification. He opposed the merger of Catholic Medical Center in Manchester with the larger Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

He said lawsuit settlements in mortgage settlements and MtBE contamination brought more into the state - $163 million in those two cases alone - than during any other attorney general's term.

And Delaney fought back challenges by House Republicans in 2011 to force him to file suit against the Obama health care law. He said the issue was one of independence of his office.

"I think I stood firmly for things that all attorneys general stood for," he said.

Greenland chief shooting

But his term had its challenges. Several homicides remain unsolved, including the 2011 murder of Stewartstown teenager Celina Cass. And in April 2012, Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney was shot to death and four police officers were wounded in a botched drug raid.

An independent review, commissioned by Delaney, found a lack of leadership, as well as policies and procedures, at the agency in charge of the raid, the Attorney General's Drug Task Force. Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams has said the ultimate responsibility rests with Delaney, who is head of the agency.

Delaney has acknowledged the raid fell under his responsibility. He has said he placed the agency head, James Norris, on leave after the raid. Norris eventually retired.

Reams has said problems with the Drug Task Force had been festering for years. Delaney has said he instituted changes after the raid, including a requirement that a SWAT team be used when a no-knock search warrant is to be served.

Divided Republicans

Meanwhile, Republicans seem divided on Delaney.

In a news release, Horn praised Delaney for his service and "upholding New Hampshire's tradition of an independent justice department that is free of partisan influence."

But the man who challenged Horn for the GOP party chairman post, Andrew Hemingway, faulted Delaney for not joining 28 states in challenging the Obama health care law in court and for pursuing cases such as price gouging against oil companies.

"From his attempts to go behind the backs of the Legislature to spend money, to his refusal to stand up against the government takeover of health care, Michael Delaney has done well by the liberal base in our state," Hemingway said in a statement.

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