Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard was in his office in Boscawen on Wednesday, a day after a judge found him guilty of drunken driving and sentenced him to five days in jail.
Hilliard said the five-day sentence is on hold while he and his lawyer consider whether to appeal the verdict issued by Nashua District Court Judge James Leary on Tuesday. Leary found Hilliard guilty of aggravated DWI and transportation of an alcoholic beverage.
Hilliard said he plans to remain at his $78,000-a-year job for the remainder of his two-year term, which ends in December.
“The voters chose me in 2018 to be the steward of this office for the next two years,” said Hilliard, a Republican, who is in his seventh term as sheriff. “I’m not a quitter. I’ve asked for forgiveness. I’m not a saint, but I’m a Christian.”
Hilliard’s decision to stay put was underlined Tuesday by the Merrimack County Commissioners in a brief statement. Commissioners said they have no say on whether Hilliard can remain in office, and his future as sheriff is up to him and the county’s voters.
However, state law provides an impeachment-like process for removing elected county officers.
The county delegation, which consists of the county’s state representatives, may remove officers for official misconduct, according to RSA Chapter 661:9.
A petition to remove a county officer must be initiated by a majority of the county commissioners, the county attorney or a Superior Court judge. The officer would then have an opportunity to bring his case to the county delegation.
Hilliard said he has not decided whether to seek another term, but he said he enjoys the job. He also said he has been encouraged by hundreds who have approached him with words of support and tell him to stick with it.
“I love serving the people, and I’m looking to continue. I hope they afford me the opportunity,” he said.
Leary also suspended Hilliard’s driver’s license for 18 months, but Hilliard can get it back after 12 months if he completes a course on impaired driving.
With his driver’s license suspended for up to 18 months, Hilliard said his son, who works across the road from the sheriff’s office at the Merrimack County nursing home, drives him to work. He said most of his job is administrative, and if his official presence were required somewhere he could get a ride with a sheriff’s department employee.
He said he is currently working on his department’s budget.
The sheriff has three county responsibilities — the sheriff’s department, emergency dispatch for rural towns and court security. In total, those expenditures amounted to $4.44 million, according to the most recent budget data available on the Merrimack County website. Seventy-two employees answer to him.
Meanwhile, the suspension of Hilliard’s police certification does not affect his ability to be sheriff, according to the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council, which certifies police officers.
State law does not require sheriffs to be certified, though Hilliard is, according to David Parenteau, the council’s interim director.
The council temporarily suspended Hilliard’s certification on Sept. 24. Once a certified officer is convicted of a crime, the council would have to hold another hearing to revoke the certification, Parenteau said in an email.
If he appeals the verdict and succeeds, Hilliard expects that his certification will be reinstated, he said.
Hilliard said he has been in law enforcement for 40 years, since he was 19.
Hillard said he stopped drinking shortly after his Aug. 9 arrest and is seeing a counselor weekly. He has been invited to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings but has not attended one. He has been invited to a meeting in Manchester for first-responders with similar problems, which he plans to attend.
He said he is instituting a lifestyle change.
“I wasn’t a falling-down drunk, but I developed a problem and I obviously recognize it. I’m working very hard, and it is a daily process,” he said.
He said he is currently the New Hampshire poster child for addiction-related problems, and while he’s not proud of it, he is doing what he can to correct it.