Executive Councilor's letter to judge prompts call for AG review
A letter used by former Budget Committee member Patrick McDougall, 38, prompted sharp comments from a judge on Tuesday, and a review by the state Attorney General's Office. (JAMES A. KIMBLE/FILE PHOTO)
SALEM - The state Attorney General's Office is being asked by police to review the circumstances surrounding a letter that Executive Councilor Christopher Sununu sent to a circuit court judge on behalf of former budget committee member Patrick McDougall.
Comments by Judge Michael Sullivan prior to McDougall's sentencing in 10th Circuit Court on Tuesday prompted Salem police to send a copy of Sununu's letter and an audio recording of the court proceeding to the state Attorney General's Office.
Sununu said on Wednesday that he has already spoken to Attorney General Michael Delaney about the matter and believes he has done nothing wrong.
"I write character letters all the time," Sununu said. "That's all this was."
Sullivan said he found the letter from Sununu on his desk when he arrived at work on Monday. It came a day before Sullivan was to sentence McDougall on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing government administration.
"I didn't know what the subject of the letter was," Sullivan said in court on Tuesday. "I opened the letter, and the first sentence made reference to Mr. McDougall. I immediately closed the letter without reading the letter, and wanted to put on the record this unusual event."
While defendants often submit character letters to the court prior to sentencing, Sullivan suggested he was disturbed about receiving one personally. Sullivan called the letter "untoward" and a "highly unusual event."
"My decision on sentencing today has to be what I hear in this courtroom," Sullivan said.
McDougall was sentenced on Tuesday to 48 hours in county jail and 50 hours of community service after being convicted in December of obstructing government administration.
The former budget committee member prevented EMTs from taking his wife to the hospital on the night of June 26 after she repeatedly called 911, suffering from a migraine. McDougall still faces felony witness tampering charges in connection with the case.
Sununu said he has known McDougall from his participation in town politics, and wrote in his letter that, "I have come to know him as a terrific father and husband."
"I know your reputation as a fair judge and when considering Patrick's sentencing I hope you will reflect upon his many positive attributes and contributions to the community and work to find a sentence that is reasonable but does not cause his wife and family excessive harm or distress," Sununu wrote to Sullivan.
Police said they contacted the Attorney General's Office following Sullivan's comments in court.
"We are aware of the situation and forwarding the matter to the proper law enforcement authority," Deputy Chief Shawn Patten said.
Sullivan's comments prompted police to question whether Sununu violated -perhaps unwittingly - RSA 640:3 (b), which deals with improper influence. That law says a person is guilty of a Class B felony if he "privately addresses to any public servant who has or will have an official discretion in a judicial or administrative proceeding any representation, argument or other communication with the purpose of influencing that discretion on the basis of considerations other than those authorized by law."
Sununu said he was asked by McDougall's lawyer, Neil Reardon, to write a character reference letter prior to the sentencing hearing.
Reardon confirmed Tuesday that he asked his client to solicit character references.
Sununu said he sent a copy of his letter to Reardon and hand-delivered another copy to a court clerk in Salem.
After hearing about Sullivan's comments from McDougall, Sununu said he spoke to Attorney General Delaney at Wednesday's Executive Council meeting.
"He told me that everything I did was well within the rules," Sununu said.
Sununu said Sullivan's comments were "completely off base" and doesn't know what prompted him to speak about the matter publicly. "The fact that he is trying to make a big deal of it, to me, is dumbfounding," Sununu said.
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