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Back-and-forth continues over county attorney

Union Leader Correspondent

February 03. 2014 10:28PM

Interim County Attorney James Boffetti plans to meet with a subcommittee of the county delegation for budget talks on Friday. (FILE)

BRENTWOOD — Interim Rockingham County Attorney James Boffetti has been asked again by a subcommittee of the county delegation to meet for budget talks, a week after he was snubbed by the same group that vets the annual county attorney budget.

"I thought it was important that we hear from Jim, seeing that he is the acting county attorney," said Rep. Norm Major, R-Plaistow, chairman of the 90-member county delegation.

That decision runs counter to one made a week ago by Rep. Kenneth Wyler, R-Kingston, vice-chairman of the delegation's executive committee, when embattled Rockingham County Attorney James Reams was chosen over Boffetti to weigh in on the proposed $2.9 million budget for the Rockingham County Attorney's Office. Boffetti was told the meeting was cancelled.

Reams has been suspended since Nov. 6 amid an investigation into his office by the state Attorney General and U.S. Attorney's Office.

Wyler maintains that Reams still holds his elected office and has more experience in dealing with county budget matters than Boffetti.

Last Monday, the subcommittee voted to increase funds for conferences, training and travel reimbursement to the same levels as the 2013 budget, according to county records. Part of the investigation into Reams involves an account that funded some of his travel expenses for training and conferences. Allegations of sexual harassment and a failure to disclose a potential credibility issue of one of his employees are also being investigated.

On Monday, the New Hampshire Judicial Branch confirmed that 15 superior court judges completed the administrative approval process of appointing Boffetti as interim Rockingham County Attorney.

Two sitting judges — Steven M. Houran and John C. Kissinger Jr. — recused themselves from the matter.

Attorney General Joe Foster petitioned the court on Nov. 6 to install Boffetti while Reams was under investigation.

Superior Court Chief Justice Nadeau appointed Judge Richard McNamara to preside over the Reams matter that same day, so that it would be handled outside of Rockingham County, according to Carole Alfano, public information officer for the N.H. Judicial Branch.

McNamara was the first judge to sign the petition, and realized while researching the appointment process that the court had to act "as a body" under state law (RSA 7:33) to approve of Boffetti serving as interim county attorney.

The court then began collecting signatures from the other judges in early November, Alfano said. The final signature — from Nadeau — was collected Jan. 30.

Alfano said the collection of signatures from judges across the state took some time due to the holidays and vacation schedules.

"It was a single piece of paper that had to be shuffled all over the state," Merrimack County Superior Court Clerk William McGraw said.

The collection of signatures effectively closes the court action regarding Boffetti's appointment, according to McGraw.

Wyler said he filed a Right-to-Know request with the court Jan. 21 for records on the appointment process. Wyler said he believes the list was only circulated to judges around the state once he made his request.

"I doubt it took 70 days to get all of the signatures," Wyler said.

Reams is challenging his temporary suspension with two lawsuits pending in Merrimack County Superior Court.

One lawsuit questions whether the attorney general had the legal authority to temporarily remove Reams from his elected post; the other challenges the Rockingham County Commissioners from barring Reams from his office. Reams is due back in court March 10.

Wyler described last week's meeting with Reams as productive and described the upcoming one with Boffetti "as a kind of peace offering" that Major called for to appease another delegation member. Wyler proposed last week's meeting with Reams while Major was briefly hospitalized. Major said Monday he did not want to comment on Wyler's decision to meet with Reams over Boffetti.

"I have always indicated that I would meet with the delegation subcommittee and I am happy that we are going to be doing that on Friday," Boffetti said.

The 90-member delegation, made up of Rockingham County's state representatives, will vote on the county budget next month.

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