AG says possible appeal by Reams could be 'fatal' to removal action
BRENTWOOD — Rockingham County Attorney James Reams wants the state Supreme Court to consider whether his alleged misconduct can be dismissed because it occurred during prior terms of office.
Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara, who is presiding over the removal proceedings, will be left to decide whether Reams can solicit a decision from the state’s highest court.
Reams’ career as Rockingham County’s top prosecutor was upended late last year when the state accused him of sexual harassing employees, ethical violations and mismanagement of a forfeiture account.
State prosecutors say that if McNamara allows Reams’ request, it could essentially kill most of their case seeking to remove him from elected office.
Reams, a Republican from Hampton, plans to be in office until January when his eighth and final term comes to an end. A decision by the Supreme Court could take months and go beyond Reams’ elected term, according to prosecutors.
The request for a Supreme Court decision, known as an interlocutory appeal, “is only likely to result in a delay that will be fatal to this removal action, with no actual review by the Supreme Court,” Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said in a court motion.
Reams’ lawyer, Michael Ramsdell, asked McNamara in April to dismiss much of the removal complaint against his client.
Ramsdell cited a pair of 1973 state Supreme Court decisions that dealt with efforts to remove a Grafton County sheriff and Hillsborough County commissioner.
Those decisions never answered whether the officials could be removed for actions that happened in prior terms of office.
McNamara suggested during a May 23 conference with lawyers involved in the case that Reams’ motion to dismiss charges might be best addressed by the Supreme Court, Ramsdell said in court papers. Reams then filed his request for the interlocutory appeal.
Prosecutors said Reams’ offenses date back to 1999 and continued throughout his 16 years in office.
Much of the allegations regarding sexual harassment and discrimination against female subordinates in the office would be thrown out if the court agreed with Ramsdell’s bid for dismissal.
Ramsdell said a favorable ruling for his client would reduce the trial from two weeks to a few days.
He argued that his client could suffer “substantial injury” from litigating his case. Reams has paid “tens of thousands of dollars” in legal costs while fighting his suspension in court. Reams returned to work after striking an agreement with the state in April.
A full trial in his case, set to begin Aug. 4, would cost “tens of thousands” more, Ramsdell said.
Edwards said in a court motion that the public and Reams’ employees who were subjected to harassment would be the ones harmed if the removal case is never fully aired.
“The irreparable harm is also the harm to the citizens of Rockingham County who are entitled to know how their elected official has behaved,” Edwards said.
Edwards mentioned in her argument that the state also wants aired recent allegations that Reams re-designated a person as being “cleared” from a state-mandated list that catalogs police officers with potential witness credibility issues.
The Union Leader reported last week that the individual is retired Salem police sergeant Eric Lamb, who is married to Assistant County Attorney Patricia Conway.
Conway, who has worked for Reams since 1999, is currently running for county attorney in the Republican primary. Lamb and Conway have not been accused of any wrongdoing.