BRENTWOOD — Female employees at the Rockingham County Attorney's Office have complained about inappropriate comments or touching by their boss, James Reams, dating back to 1999.
Allegations about Reams' conduct came to light Tuesday in a court filing arguing that the embattled county attorney should be allowed to have more information into the attorney general's investigation that began more than a month ago.
Reams, who has been elected to office eight times since 1998, called the allegations made by the female employees "absolutely false."
"My reaction was I was a little surprised," Reams said in an interview on Tuesday. "Clearly, they're saying it's a hostile work environment."
Reams' attorney, Michael Ramsdell, is arguing that the Attorney General's Office should turn over more information regarding their probe so they can challenge the state's decision to temporarily suspend Reams from his prosecutorial duties.
The allegations summarized by Ramsdell include accusations that in 2010, Reams told a former assistant county attorney that her blouse had become unbuttoned and exposed "her brassiere and cleavage."
"The allegation includes that County Attorney Reams touched the assistant county attorney while pointing out the unintended undone button," Ramsdell said in court papers.
Ramsdell said in court papers that the woman did not lodge the original complaint about the incident, and that the woman's recitation of the facts "has changed over time, including originally denying that she was touched during the incident."
That same year, Reams allegedly placed his hand on the thigh of the same employee while they attended a domestic violence conference, according to the court filing.
The incident was investigated, Ramsdell said, "and another person who was present at the conference reported that the alleged event did not happen."
Reams said of those interactions, "I was given an opportunity to address those concerns, and nothing came of them."
In May 1999, a female employee complained to the state Attorney General's Office that Reams called her a "babe" and allegedly commented that "buttoning her top button on a sweater made her look like a 'prude'," according to Ramsdell.
Reams cooperated with an investigation into the matter by the Attorney General's Office, and no action was taken in the case.
Reams admitted to "telling an unwise joke" and claimed that other interactions with the female employee "were taken out of context or were fabrications," Ramsdell said in a court motion.
Other employees have complained that Reams made, "inappropriate remarks about birth control, victims and assistant county attorneys going on trips with him under sexually suggestive conditions," Ramsdell said in court papers.
Reams has also made remarks that he had hoped employees would not become pregnant, and made remarks about women's footwear, according to the court filing.