CONCORD — Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway told the Executive Council Wednesday that, if confirmed, she would be a “fair and impartial” judge despite having spent her legal career as a prosecutor.
The New Hampshire Bar Association judged Conway “qualified” as Gov. Chris Sununu’s pick for a Superior Court judgeship.
But in an unusual move, the NHBA’s Board of Governors also raised “reservations” that Conway’s experience was too one-sided and could affect her future rulings from the bench.
“I can understand why some folks looking, from the outside in, may have some concerns whether a career prosecutor can be fair or impartial,” Conway said in her opening statement to the council.
“I am confident I can be fair and impartial. I have always possessed the ability to see both sides of the coin.”
Conway noted Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau also had no civil law experience when the late Gov. Stephen Merrill first made her a judge in the mid-1990s.
“I understand with some cases, I will need to study the law in order to make a good ruling,” Conway said, adding 80% of the court’s workload would be criminal cases.
“I know I can hit the ground running.”
A variety of lawyers, prosecutors, judges and politicians supported Conway during a public hearing before the council, including Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Superior Court judges Will Delker of Concord and David Ruoff of Weare.
“I believe she has the experience, the temperament, the belief in public service and the respect for the rule of law necessary to be a good judge,” Morse said.
Maureen Sullivan, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Rockingham County, said the two haven’t always agreed on all cases over a 13-year work relationship.
“She has handled it openly and we have great respect for each other,” Sullivan said.
Rockingham County’s first female prosecutor
In 2014, the voters elected Conway, a Salem Republican, as the first female prosecutor in the history of Rockingham County.
She replaced Jim Reams, the longtime county prosecutor who earlier that year had stepped down after charges of sexual harassment and financial irregularities.
Reams admitted no wrongdoing.
Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord, the only Democrat on the five-person council, asked Conway to explain why, on the day after that first election, she fired prosecutor Jerome Blanchard.
Before his firing, Blanchard was the office whistleblower against Reams and Conway’s husband, Eric Lamb, a former Salem Police Department sergeant.
Blanchard reported that Reams had erroneously listed Lamb, who had been put on the so-called Laurie List for misconduct charges, as “cleared.”
In addition, Blanchard was identified as the “primary whistleblower” in the other charges against Reams.
Reams’ lawyer later said it was a mistake to have marked Lamb as “cleared.”
Conway said in 2014 that she never knew Reams had made that notation in her husband’s file.
Warmington asked Conway to answer Blanchard’s claim he was fired in retaliation for his whistleblower activity.
“Anyone who says I terminated this employee for retaliatory reasons is absolutely not true; it is false,” Conway said, adding she made the “tough decision” to improve morale in the office.
“The decision resulted in a better office with the staff carrying itself with honor, integrity and professionalism. I am proud of my staff. I won’t tolerate anything else.”
Blanchard settled his complaints against the county out of court for $80,000, according to published reports.
Warmington praised Conway for serving as a pioneer in creating alternative sentencing programs.
Conway said initially she saw jail time as the proper outcome but came to feel differently.
“Over the years, I have learned that hasn’t worked in every instance,” Conway said.
It’s likely the council later this month will vote to confirm Conway.
Since Sununu won a third term last November, the 4-1 Republican council has approved every nomination he’s offered.
This group has included some the Democratic-led council rejected in 2019-20 for state jobs, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald and 2018 GOP congressional nominee Eddie Edwards.