NASHUA — Five months on the job and New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster speaks out about his top attorney position, challenges facing the state Department of Justice and the heart-wrenching disappearance of Abigail Hernandez.
Speaking Thursday at Rivier University’s President’s Circle Leadership Forum, Foster told a crowd of education and business leaders that the lawyers from his Criminal Bureau are actively assisting in the search for Hernandez, 15, of Conway.
“Local police, state police and FBI are working hand in hand to try to find Abigail Hernandez,” he said. “You would be very proud of their efforts if you were up there.”
He said the team is working around the clock to bring Hernandez home, describing the professionalism by law enforcement agencies investigating the case as “extraordinary.”
Foster said he has spent time in Conway where the investigation has been ongoing since her disappearance on Oct. 9. Victim assistance advocates are sitting by her mother’s side throughout the ordeal, he added.
Cases such as the missing teen investigation are just a small part of what the New Hampshire Department of Justice takes on each day, according to Foster, who was appointed to the position in May.
“I am humbled to have been chosen to serve,” he said, describing the DOJ as the state’s largest law firm with 56 lawyers and 130 employees that are dedicated and creative public servants.
Foster says he has already learned a lot about the department, but admits he still has more knowledge to acquire about its various bureaus and duties.“The department has to triage matters as they come to us,” he said, adding there is limited personnel to handle significant issues. Foster stressed that some matters can’t be pursued immediately because there is not enough manpower to assign the tasks, while other matters aren’t pursued at all.The DOJ doesn’t have all of the necessary resources, according to Foster, who said outside counsel is sometimes sought, proactive training may not take place and starting salaries for lawyers are not competitive.
“We shouldn’t be losing people to the city of Concord or the city of Dover, but we do,” he said. As salaries lag behind, Foster said personnel will move on to other state agencies or municipalities.
He asked those in attendance to support the DOJ and its need for additional staff. Foster’s ultimate goal, he said, is to make the department the best law firm it can be.
Handling 20 homicides so far this year — some of them in Nashua — is just a small portion of what the DOJ investigates throughout its many sectors, said Foster, noting divisions such as the Environmental Bureau, Charitable Trusts Unit, Transportation and Construction Bureau, Consumer Bureau, Civil Bureau and Criminal Bureau.
“Each of these groups perform critical functions,” he said.