BRENTWOOD — Rockingham County Attorney James Reams was suspended and his deputy prosecutor and a victim-witness advocate put on leave as part of a state and federal probe investigating "managerial and operational" issues at the county prosecutor's office.
At a news conference Thursday, Attorney General Joe Foster said that he made "the difficult decision" to suspend Reams from exercising his prosecutorial authority as a result of the ongoing investigation.
Deputy County Attorney Tom Reid and a victim-witness advocate were placed on administrative leave by county commissioners, who were briefed about the investigation during a non-public session late Wednesday afternoon.
Commissioners also decided to ban Reams from entering his office.
Foster said a former employee of Reams made a complaint to his office two weeks ago. Foster said last week he sought further assistance from the U.S. Attorney and the FBI with the investigation. Investigators refused to divulge the nature of the complaint, or what they learned.
"The allegations were significant," Foster said.
The announcement brought a rapid shake-up for the Rockingham County Attorney's Office. Reams has held the elected post since 1998.
When prosecutors and staff arrived for work at the bottom-floor of the courthouse, they were barred from going into their offices.
Instead, they were directed into the grand jury room in the rear of the courthouse, where they were told few details outside of the fact that they had a new boss.
Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti would be serving as the interim-county attorney, they were told.
Later in the morning, FBI agents began interviewing employees within the 37-person office.
"We are hopeful they will be completed in short order," Foster said of the employee interviews.
Reams was suspended by Foster Wednesday and given a letter that read, "At this juncture, this suspension is on a temporary basis in order to allow state and federal investigators to conduct an investigation into the operations and your management of the Rockingham County Attorney's Office."
Judge Richard McNamara, who sits in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, approved a petition to install Boffetti in the wake of the investigation.
Foster said during the news conference that the interview with the former employee, "led us to a number of other former employees we interviewed along with agents from the FBI. The interviews corroborated the allegations made by the initial complainant and raised other issues."
County commissioners learned Tuesday night that state and federal authorities wanted to meet with them, according to county Commissioner Kevin Coyle. Commissioners usually meet weekly on Wednesdays.
"They indicated that they were coming," Coyle said.
About 5 p.m., Commissioners Coyle, Thomas Tombarello and Katharin Pratt went into nonpublic session with Foster, Kacavas and FBI agents and learned details about the allegations.
"It's disheartening to hear — to know that any of this could be true," Tombarello said.
Commissioners interviewed Thursday said they were prohibited from discussing any details about the investigation. The commission sealed minutes to their non-public session.
"This was really a shock," Tombarello said. "I thought, 'Am I hearing what I am actually hearing?' It was upsetting to listen to."
Coyle said that if Reams either resigns or is removed from office as a result of the probe, the 90-member county delegation would be charged with appointing someone to take his position "on a more permanent basis."
Kacavas said his office has been working "shoulder to shoulder" with state investigators.
"This office remains open for business and the Rockingham County Attorney's Office will continue to function and administer criminal justice uninterrupted and unabated during pendency of this investigation," Kacavas said.
Boffetti joined the Attorney General's Office in 2007, and serves as the chief of the state's consumer protection and anti-trust bureau. Prior to that, he spent 13 years in the public defender's office, and managed the Stratham office before he left.
Much of Boffetti's job as interim-county attorney will be to make sure the office runs like it is business as usual, according to Associate Attorney General Jane Young.
Reams and Reid could not be reached for comment Thursday. No one came to the door of Reid's Epsom home.