Rockingham County victim witness advocate resigns
BRENTWOOD – A victim witness advocate who was placed on paid administrative leave during an investigation into the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office has resigned, according to county officials.
County commissioners accepted the resignation of Tara Longo, a 16-year employee with the county attorney’s office, after she spent about two months on paid administrative leave.
Longo was temporarily removed from her job in the wake of her boss, Rockingham County Attorney James Reams and his deputy, Tom Reid, coming under the scrutiny of state and federal investigators for a range of alleged operational and management issues within the office.
Longo’s attorney Adam Bernstein said his client’s resignation was not an admission to any alleged wrongdoing. He described Longo as a hardworking employee who decided to leave because of the cloud hanging over the county attorney’s office due to the investigation.
“From my perspective, she was one of the top victim advocates in the office,” he said. “She has helped a lot of victims through a lot of horrific cases.”
Longo departs her job after being on paid leave since Nov. 6.
Commissioners have yet to decide whether she will get just under $10,000 for accrued sick days and vacation time that she never took.
“She has not been given it yet, but my gut feeling is that she will get it,” County Commissioner Tom Tombarello said.
Longo joined the office in 1997, and earned $55,733 in 2013, according to county records. She submitted a letter of resignation late last week, which was officially accepted by commissioners on Thursday.
“I’m glad this situation is behind us,” Commissioner Kevin Coyle said. “We are advertising the position and hope to get good applicants.”
State prosecutors have acknowledged that Longo had a potential credibility issue that was never disclosed to defense attorneys by prosecutors within the office.
Randy Hawkes, executive director of the state’s Public Defender Program, said in a Dec. 4 memo that when Longo applied for her job, she submitted a resume that was not completely accurate.
When the county attorney later became aware of the misrepresentation, Longo was allowed to remain in her position despite the credibility issue that was raised, according to Hawkes’ memo.
Failing to disclose that issue could allow some convicted defendants to seek new trials, some legal experts said. Longo testified during the 2006 trial of Harold Baird.
Baird, 77, a Danville man convicted of aggravated felonious sexual assault, has already been notified by the interim county attorney that he may be entitled to seek a new trial. He is serving a 40- to 80-year prison term.
Baird, who currently does not have a lawyer, has yet to file for any kind of hearing in court.
Associate Attorney General Jane Young said on Thursday that the investigation into Reams’ office is continuing, but she could not address the aspect of the case focusing on Longo.
“I can tell you that the investigation into the operations and management of the county attorney’s office remains ongoing,” she said.
The wide-ranging investigation into the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office has included allegations of Reams sexually harassing employees, his management of a forfeiture account and his alleged failure to disclose Longo’s potential credibility issue, according to interviews and court records.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI is assisting the state with the investigation.
Reams, who has held the elected post since 1998, has denied any wrongdoing and suggested the probe is politically motivated.
He is expected to return to court on Tuesday to contest Attorney General Joseph Foster’s decision to temporarily strip him of his prosecutorial duties during the investigation. Reams filed a separate lawsuit that will also be heard on Tuesday, challenging the county commissioners’ decision to bar him from entering his office.
Interim Rockingham County Attorney James Boffetti said on Thursday he has received permission from county commissioners to hire a new victim witness advocate.
“We hope to fill the position as soon as possible because of the significant need for victim-witness services,” Boffetti said. Two other full-time victim witness advocates work in the office full time, guiding victims through the criminal justice process, including trials, plea agreements and sentencing hearings.
Boffetti said he hired a part-time person to work 20 hours a week to help with Longo’s caseload while she was on paid leave.
Reid, the deputy county attorney, remained on paid administrative leave as of Thursday, continuing to collect his annual salary of $93,003.
The state Attorney General’s Office was expected to meet privately with county commissioners late Thursday.
Tombarello said he has been anxious to resolve the job status of both Longo and Reid.
“My concern was that the taxpayers were paying for two employees who were at home and not on the job,” Tombarello said. “I was hoping this investigation would go a lot quicker but I understand that they have to do their research.”