Suspended Rockingham County Attorney pushes for return
A judge is now weighing whether Rockingham County Attorney James Reams can return to work while he faces removal proceedings. (JAMES A. KIMBLE FILE)
BRENTWOOD — Rockingham County Attorney James Reams asked a judge on Wednesday to deny the Attorney General’s request to keep him out of his elected office while a legal battle about his suspension likely heads to the state Supreme Court.
“Because the Attorney General’s findings will be exposed as, at best, misplaced and exaggerated, and at worst, false, his significant concerns are unfounded,” Reams’ attorney Michael Ramsdell said in court papers filed Wednesday.
Judge Richard McNamara is now weighing the question of whether Reams, an eight-term Republican from Hampton, will be able to set foot back into his Brentwood office and resume his job as the county’s top law enforcement officer while the state seeks to remove him for alleged misconduct.
Reams is facing removal proceedings after a five-month investigation concluded he sexually harassed female subordinates and misused a forfeiture fund for office travel, equipment and training.
Any decision about the legality of Reams’ suspension is expected to be appealed to the state Supreme Court, but for now the state is focused on keeping Reams from returning to his job as Rockingham County’s top law enforcement officer.
McNamara dealt a significant blow to the state last week when he suggested that there may be no legally justifiable reason to keep Reams out of his elected post because no criminal charges were pending against him.
That prompted state prosecutors to file for a stay late Monday on any order McNamara issues regarding Reams’ job status.
Associate Attorney General Jane Young told McNamara in court papers that New Hampshire’s highest court should be allowed to weigh in on whether an attorney general can legally suspend a county attorney that faces allegations of civil and ethical misconduct.
“This case raises important questions regarding the Attorney General’s constitutional statutory and common law supervisory authority over county attorneys,” Young said. “It also raises significant constitutional questions regarding the court’s role when it is asked to intervene and override the attorney general’s exercise of that authority.”
The state Supreme Court last weighed in on the suspension of a county attorney in February 1975 when it concluded the attorney general had the authority to temporarily suspend a county attorney because he had been charged with two misdemeanors for showing X-rated films at a Littleton theater.
McNamara concluded that the lack of criminal charges against Reams could be a deciding factor in whether he should be allowed to return to serve out his term, which ends in roughly nine months.
Young also argued that Reams’ failure to abide by ethical obligations, “is itself a basis to conclude that public confidence will be shaken if he is given back his prosecutorial and law enforcement powers.”
The state’s removal complaint includes allegations that Reams was first investigated for sexual harassment shortly after he entered office in 1999, and came under scrutiny again in 2012 by the county’s human resources department for “sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, improper application of the Family Medical Leave Act and retaliation.”
“Given that Reams was unrepentant following Attorney General McLaughlin’s investigation and the recent investigation by the county’s Human Resources Department, there is no reason to believe he will do anything but continue his practice of harassment, intimidation and retaliation,” Young told the judge. Ramsdell remained dismissive of the state’s investigation, and said on Wednesday that one employee named in the removal complaint says she has “no objection” to Reams returning to office. That unnamed employee allegedly told investigators that Reams made a sexually explicit comment about her high heels she wore to court.
“(She) told investigators while this embarrassed her, Reams just laughed,” according to the state’s complaint.
Another employee named in the complaint also says she was not discriminated against, according to Ramsdell.
Ramsdell suggested that even if the court had concerns about Reams, he could return to office under the supervision of an assistant attorney general. James Boffetti, a senior assistant attorney general, is already filling in as interim county attorney.
Young argued that if Reams is allowed to return to the county attorney’s office, he will be able to discriminate and retaliate against employees who complained to investigators. Ramsdell said only two of the eight employees cited in the removal complaint currently work in the office.
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