MANCHESTER — Embattled Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon said he felt hurt and attacked by Deputy Attorney General Jane Young, who during a news conference on Wednesday criticized his leadership of the office over the past eight months.
Conlon, a Democrat, said he ran for the office last year to address many previously raised issues, including underfunding, low morale and employee turnover. And until this month, he said, Young and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald offered their support and collaboration.
On Wednesday, Young said the situation in the office is “dire.” She said she has spent more time running the office in the last several months than Conlon.
“It really hurts me personally to be attacked like that,” Conlon said. “I think it’s contrary to their other words of being collaborative and working together.”
Last week, MacDonald announced he was taking over the prosecutorial functions of the office, leaving Conlon with only administrative duties.
On Monday, Young and two of her assistant prosecutors started work in the office. MacDonald eventually wants to replace them with David Mara, the state’s current drug czar and a former Manchester police chief. The Executive Council will have to confirm Mara to the position of assistant attorney general.
The move has been noticed by political observers, including Democratic National Committeewoman Kathy Sullivan. On Tuesday, Sullivan tweeted: “There was controversy after controversy after controversy with the prior (Republican) county attorney, yet never saw MacDonald demand his resignation or take over his office.”
Young has disavowed any political reasons for the move. And Conlon said he has has no indication that is the case.
On Wednesday, Young said Conlon has failed to address the concerns of law enforcement, and she criticized him for being unaware of several plea bargains, including a deal earlier this month involving the parents of a Manchester toddler who died of a drug overdose.
Young cited “repeated failures” by Conlon. She also noted a case backlog that her prosecutors are concerned about.
Conlon said any backlog is an indication of the workload his office still struggles with.
While he recently brought his office to full staff, the Manchester office of 15 prosecutors is now essentially down four, Conlon said. Two new hires need to be trained. Prosecutor Joe Quinlan died earlier this month. And prosecutor Don Topham, who handled the toddler drug death case, remains suspended.
Conlon said Topham intentionally kept him and his first assistant in the dark when it came to the plea bargain and police criticism of it. He has since instituted a policy to require mangement approval in such instances.
“I very much agree there was a communication failure,” Conlon said.
Conlon said his former first assistant and his victim-witness advocates had approved a decision in February to drop a case against Damien Seace after domestic-violence victim Jennifer Burpee recanted her story. Seace is accused of beating Burpee to death in July.
Conlon, who had no experience as a prosecutor when elected, said he devoted a lot of his time in the first several months to getting approvals for hiring two new prosecutors, budget approval and bringing on new staff.
“There should be no surprise,” he said, “that there were issues in this office.”