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Judge issues no ruling on county attorney's suspension

CONCORD - Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara Monday said he wouldn't issue an immediate ruling on whether suspended Rockingham County Attorney James Reams can return to his job.

But associate attorney general Jane Young went to the clerk's office immediately after the hearing to file a motion to stay the effect of such a ruling, pending an appeal being filed with the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Monday's hearings were on the attorney general's effort to continue Reams' suspension, Reams' effort to end the suspension, and a free-lance journalist's effort to get the names of the women who complained about Reams' behavior.

McNamara told both sides: "Only this court has the authority to remove the county attorney."

Attorney General Joseph Foster suspended Reams Nov. 7, pending an investigation. The office released a redacted report last month, saying no criminal charges would be filed.

But the AG's office plans to proceed with civil charges of official misconduct, and the attorney for the county commissioners, Christopher Cole, argued that allowing Reams to return to office could put those who reported actions at risk of discrimination and retribution.

Defense attorney Michael Ramsdell called that a "red herring." In any event, said Ramsdell, only two of the people cited in the report are still employed at the County Attorney's Office, and one of them has said she has no objection to Reams' return.

McNamara said, "These are not easy issues." As a result, he said, if he issues a ruling that permits Reams to return to his office: "I don't think a stay (pending appeal) is unreasonable."

Ramsdell, claiming the AG's office is trying to get around the preliminary injunction standard, said: "A stay is grossly unwarranted."

Associate attorney general Anne Edwards said a one-week stay would be sufficient for her office to prepare an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

But Ramsdell requested any stay last only until Friday, saying his concern is that the ruling would be stayed until the appeal was decided by the Supreme Court.

McNamara said, "These are unsettled issues of law."

He took the matters under advisement.

The last motion of the day was a request filed by free-lance journalist Nancy West, a former Union Leader reporter/editor. West requested that the report filed by the AG's office be unsealed.

Edwards said the only thing removed or redacted from the report released last month were the names of the "victims." She said, "We are protecting genuine state interests."

West said that without the names, there is no way to determine the credibility of the complainants. "This could be viewed as political," she said, adding that one of the complainants is seeking the county attorney job.

McNamara said he has to do some research before issuing a ruling. "There are other cases," he said. "I want to do some reading."

After the hearing, Ramsdell said he anticipates McNamara will order the suspension was out of order, and Reams, who has been paid his regular salary during his suspension, will return to his office.

Whatever McNamara decides, Young said, "We are poised to go forward on this complaint (of civil misconduct)." Among the issues cited in the AG's report were misuse of funds and harassment of women in his office.

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