CONCORD — Rockingham County Attorney James Reams remains suspended and will have to wait until next month to get a hearing on his challenge to Attorney General Joe Foster's decision to temporarily remove him from office amid an investigation into managerial and operational issues.
Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara instructed Reams' attorney, Michael Ramsdell, to file a complaint with the court seeking declaratory relief from the suspension. Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards will have an opportunity to counter the complaint.
"We're pleased," Ramsdell said after Thursday's hearing. "We believe that the attorney general overstepped his bounds in suspending County Attorney Reams, and we are very pleased that there will be a hearing on this."
The investigation into Reams will not be put on hold.
Reams was suspended Nov. 7, after the attorney general and the U.S. Attorney's Office kicked off an investigation. No specific allegations against Reams have been made public. Foster and U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said last week that the investigation centers on "operational and managerial" issues within Reams' office.
Rockingham County Commissioners placed Deputy County Attorney Tom Reid and a victim-witness advocate on paid administrative leave after being briefed by investigators.
At Thursday's hearing, Ramsdell and Edwards spent 50 minutes arguing whether it was appropriate for the attorney general to take action without any specific charges filed against Reams.
Edwards argued her point that Thursday's hearing was not needed, because the court had previously OK'd a request by the attorney general's office to appoint another county attorney — Jim Boffetti — on a temporary basis to fill Reams' shoes.
Ramsdell argued that the court, by allowing the attorney general to suspend Reams, was now involved in the proceedings, and a hearing should take place to determine if the suspension was valid.
Judge McNamara disagreed, repeatedly pointing out that the merits of the case were not before the court, only the validity of the suspension.
Many of the arguments centered around the lone New Hampshire case involving the suspension of a county attorney by an attorney general, Eames v. Rudman in 1975.
Ramsdell said the ruling in the Rudman case seemed to hinge on the fact that the attorney general needs to have merit to suspend. In the Reams case, it isn't about a criminal matter, but the management of the office, he said.
"That's not criminal," Ramsdell said.
McNamara offered that the attorney general, as the state's top law enforcement officer, often gets involved in cases and plea deals, and that would seem to allow a suspension of an attorney over the management of their office.
Reams did not speak during the hearing, and did not answer any questions outside the courtroom.
"You'll have to talk to my lawyer," he said as he departed the lobby of the court house.