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County Attorney Hogan: 'We didn't know' of mishandling of Manchester domestic violence cases

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 01. 2017 10:30PM


MANCHESTER - Hillsborough County Attorney Dennis Hogan said he was unaware there was systematic mishandling of domestic violence cases in Manchester even though a state law and legal opinion make clear that office has supervisory authority over city prosecutors.

On Thursday, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said his office's probe found numerous problems with actions and decisions made by Andrea Muller, a city prosecutor, in dealing with misdemeanor cases of domestic violence.

Assistant county attorneys prosecute felony domestic violence crimes.

"There had been an issue there for some time and that now appears to be the case," Hogan said during a telephone interview Friday night.

"We didn't know there was this deficiency over there and had no idea whether she was not getting enough support or supervision of her work."

Hogan first learned of the problem when MacDonald copied him about the ongoing investigation last month.

While Hogan agreed county attorneys are the "overseers" of all local prosecution, that doesn't mean they know how well the work is being done.

"This does not mean we had any inside information into how the unit was functioning, good or bad, because we didn't; it was really up to the city department to have all of that," Hogan said.

MacDonald made clear in a letter to Hogan the county attorney bears some responsibility.

"Your office constitutes the first level of authority and responsibility for the integrity of prosecutions at the local level," MacDonald said.

In a 2002 advisory opinion, then Attorney General Phil McLaughlin said a county prosecutor has the power to step in and correct problems with the handling of cases by city or town lawyers.

"If it appeared a local prosecutor, for example, initiated or disposed of a criminal charge for an improper purpose ... it would be the responsibility of the county attorney to intervene," McLaughlin wrote.

On Friday, City Solicitor Tom Clark, sharply criticized in the Attorney General's report for a lack of supervision over the domestic violence unit, announced he'd retire on July 31 and asked to be immediately relieved of his administrative duties. Hogan chose not to comment on Clark's departure.

The quality of domestic violence prosecution does vary from county to county, and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence is exploring a statewide review, according to Amanda Grady Sexton, the coalition's director of public affairs.

"Thank goodness the Attorney General acted quickly in this matter. We're not about singling out people but about making sure folks are properly trained and supervised," Grady Sexton said.

Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard had said more than 70 percent of the domestic violence cases in Manchester were being conditionally nol prossed, which is essentially dismissed with conditions.

"That number is outrageous. It's obscene," Grady Sexton said, adding that figure should be less than 10 percent.

Grady Sexton said Hogan revealed a lack of sensitivity about domestic violence with his news release last month regarding the 2015 rape of a 14-year-old girl in a hallway at Manchester High School West.

Hogan's release described in detail the sex acts the victim was forced to perform and that the victim was "frozen in shock" while the rape was going on.

"That release from the county attorney showed a fundamental lack of understanding about victim issues," Grady Sexton said.

Willard called Hogan's description of the sexual assaults in that case "grossly inappropriate."

In his defense, Hogan said, "It was an awful case so it's going to sound awful."

Former Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance found it "telling" that Willard did not go to Hogan with concerns about city prosecutions but went over his head to the Attorney General's Office.

"What I found most alarming to me is the Manchester police did not see fit to notify the county attorney to alert them of the problems with the domestic violence unit. That's the appropriate place to start, and when I was county attorney, that's what would have happened," LaFrance said.

Willard has declined comment on the matter since Friday when he praised his staff for bringing these complaints about "repeated failures" to the Attorney General.

Grady Sexton cited LaFrance as a standout prosecutor on these cases in the past along with Grafton County Attorney Joan Saffo and three prosecutors for the city of Concord.

In its report, MacDonald says it's up to Hogan's office to provide "stringent supervision" for how the city's domestic violence unit improves its practices in court, record keeping and case follow through.

Hogan said it was Willard's call about who to ask for help.

"It would have been just as appropriate had we been called in first to investigate this matter but we were not," Hogan said.

"We would have come up with a fairly similar conclusion is my guess. We are going to aggressively follow through to make sure all of the findings are followed up and carried out."

Reporter Shawne Wickham contributed to this report.

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