Delegation set to play key role following Rockingham County attorney departure
County delegation members were thrust back into the ongoing debate about operations at the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office on Tuesday after longtime County Attorney James Reams agreed to leave his post as part of a settlement with county commissioners.
Reams took a $42,000 payout, the remainder of his salary for the year, as part of a deal that effectively ended a state removal proceeding for alleged misconduct that included allegations of sexual harassment, misuse of a forfeiture account and other ethical violations.
The county delegation, by law, must meet to decide whether to name an interim county attorney.
A five-member panel will first consider various proposals today to eventually bring to the 90 member delegation, made up of Rockingham County’s state representatives.
“We want to resolve this as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Norm Major, R-Plaistow, the delegation’s chairman. “Personally, I wouldn’t want somebody to be appointed who is running for the office because it gives that person an unfair advantage.”
The panel could recommend appointing an interim county attorney, endorse the state attorney general’s offer to provide a temporary replacement or take no action before the fall election, according to Major.
State prosecutors have been stationed within the county attorney’s office since Reams negotiated his return to office on April 30, following a six-month suspension imposed by the state while he was being investigated.
Associate Attorney General Jane Young said on Wednesday that her office is working diligently with county commissioners to ensure a smooth transition as delegation members make their decision.
James Boffetti, a senior assistant attorney general, was assigned to oversee prosecutorial functions of the office during the transition, according to Young.
Boffetti served as interim-county attorney during Reams’ suspension. He is among the possible choices delegation members could make for an interim appointment. Boffetti would only receive his salary as a state prosecutor and come to the county at no cost.
Young said that ensuring that prosecutions flow smoothly at county attorney offices around New Hampshire is part of the attorney general’s function.
The state has stepped in twice in recent years when the post of county attorney was suddenly left vacant.
Young said she was posted to oversee prosecutions at the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office for several weeks when election results were disputed in 2003 by incumbent Peter McDonough. The state Supreme Court decided Republican John Coughlin won the election.
In 2009, the state also oversaw prosecutions for a time when then-Hillsborough County Attorney Marguerite Wageling was chosen to become a superior court judge.
State rejects appointment
Young also said that the state does not recognize Reams’ decision to appoint Assistant County Attorney Patricia Conway as a deputy county attorney. She is one of four candidates seeking the county attorney post in the Republican primary.
Her name was recently linked to Reams’ legal troubles when prosecutors alleged that her husband was re-designated as “cleared” from a state-mandated list that lists police officers with potential witness-credibility issues. Reams was the sole person who maintained the list.
In an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday, Reams denied intentionally re-classifying the retired Salem police sergeant, Eric Lamb, or ever discussing the issue with Conway.
Rep. Kevin Waterhouse, R-Windham, said he supports Conway’s candidacy to succeed Reams, but will wait to hear from other delegation members before reaching a decision.
“I haven’t made up my mind. I will go into the meeting with an open mind,” Waterhouse said.
He said that he appreciated Ream’s 16 years of service as county attorney and accused county commissioners of not taking a stronger leadership role in handling the matter.
At least one candidate on the Republican ticket, Jason Grosky, of Atkinson, called on delegation members to endorse the attorney general’s offer to oversee the office until the fall election. Grosky said he wrote a letter to delegation members and contacted some about his concerns.
He also challenged his opponents to make a similar request to the delegation.
“The County’s Attorney’s Office has seen enough dissension without creating another political process,” Grosky said in a statement. “The attorney general has offered a fair and reasonable solution that will begin the healing process at no additional cost to the county and its taxpayers.”