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August 19. 2014 10:05PM

Rockingham County attorney candidates talk leadership at forum

PORTSMOUTH — The five candidates for Rockingham County Attorney told an audience Tuesday night that they backed more drug programs for addicts and promised to be hands on prosecutors in the courtroom.

The candidates also answered how they would reshape an office mired by controversy in the wake of a state investigation that eventually led to the retirement of longtime county attorney James Reams and the resignation of his deputy in January. “There’s been a problem, and it’s at the top,” said Michael Zaino, an assistant Hillsborough county attorney who himself left Rockingham County for a similar prosecuting job.

Zaino noted the office lost roughly half of its staff within the last year prior to the state investigation.

The event at the Portsmouth Public Library comes 20 days before the Republican primary.

But the forum — hosted by the Rockingham County Bar Association — did not bring about any confrontation among the four Republican candidates about how they would lead or manage the office.

Assistant County Attorney Patricia Conway said she would improve the reputation of the office by educating the public about the work being done by county prosecutors. She said the office has seen a 20 percent increase in prosecutions, while using the same number of attorneys.

Jason Grosky, a Salem police prosecutor from Atkinson, suggested the new county attorney would have to make sure prosecutors worked as a team, and that no one was coddled.

“You can’t do that by putting someone in there who is part of the problem,” Grosky said.

Michael DiCroce, who prosecutes for six police departments, said he could restore credibility and leadership with his 23 years of experience managing his own law practice.

DiCroce, a former assistant county attorney, wants to reshape the office so that a division works on specific types of crimes so that there are more consistent punishments or resolutions throughout the county.

Responding to a question about the region’s heroin epidemic, all five candidates backed treatment programs for addicts, and an expansion of the county’s drug court.

Zaino, who once served as a federal prosecutor, said he would target large-scale drug dealers in the region while seeking programs for addicts who want to get themselves clean. He said area hospitals and health care providers need to become part of the public dialogue.

DiCroce said he would also advocate for more mental health facilities to help deal with some of the users who suffer from mental health problems.

Democrat Joe Plaia, running unopposed in the primary, said he wanted to mirror programs that have already been successful in Strafford County. They include expansion of its drug court, increasing programs focused on treating addiction and finding earlier resolutions in criminal cases.

jkimble@newstote.com


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