April 14. 2013 8:23PM

John DiStaso's Granite Status: Ovide Lamontagne headed to D.C. as Americans United for Life general counsel

Senior Political Reporter


(SEE ITEM BELOW: Executive Councilor Chris Sununu believes there is a "massive conflict" in Gov. Maggie Hassan's nomination of a union lobbyist to a post on the state Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission. Hassan and a top union official disagree.)


MONDAY, APRIL 15. Attorney Ovide Lamontagne of Manchester will soon leave the Devine Millimet law firm to assume a major post with the nation's oldest pro-life organization.

Lamontagne in early May will become general counsel for Americans United for Life, which for 42 years has been a top public interest law firm and advocacy group for the movement.

Ovide Lamontagne "My office will be in Washington, but I can assure you my heart and my home will always be in New Hampshire," Lamontagne told the Granite Status Monday.

The 55-year-old Manchester native, 2012 Republican gubernatorial nominee and 2010 U.S. Senate candidate said he will maintain his home in Manchester and will commute home on weekends. But he said he will spend most of his professional time in Washington and will have a home there as well, with his wife, Bettie.

Lamontagne said he and his wife will eventually "transition" to spending even more time in Washington, while still keeping his home in New Hampshire.

"There are mixed emotions," Lamontagne said. "As invigorated as I am at the prospect of the work I'll be doing in this important area, I live New Hampshire and New Hampshire will always be my home."

In fact, Lamontagne famously declared, "I am New Hampshire," in one of the television ads his campaign aired last year in his unsuccessful bid to be the state's chief executive against now-Gov. Maggie Hassan.

He said his parent still live next door to his home on Manchester's east side and he will miss "the ability to see them every day and to see all of my friends and people I am close to in the business community. The separation will be hard."

But Lamontagne said the opportunity to play a leading national role in a movement he cares deeply about is exciting.

He described AUL as "the legal department of the pro-life movement for the past 40 years."

As general counsel, which Lamontagne said is a new position for AUL, his role will be "to oversee the legal, legislative and regulatory initiatives of Americans United for Life in all 50 states and to be their primary overseer of activity on Capitol Hill as well.

"It's an exciting and new opportunity for me to serve in what I consider to be the most important civil rights and social justice issue of our time," Lamontagne said, "and that's the preservation and promotion of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death."

Lamontagne said that in addition to abortion-related issues, AUL is a leading advocate on the pro-life side of "end-of-life" issues, such as the debate over euthanasia.

Lamontagne is a partner at the Devine Millimet firm, where he began as an associate in 1986. He has been in management at the firm and formerly headed the litigation department.

His long political career in the state began 21 years ago, when he ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for the 1st District U.S. House seat against eventual congressman Bill Zeliff.

He then defeated Zeliff in a GOP primary for governor in 1996 but lost to Jeanne Shaheen in the general election.

Lamontagne returned to elective politics in 2010, narrowly losing a U.S. Senate primary to Kelly Ayotte. Last year, he handily won the GOP gubernatorial primary before losing to Hassan in the general election.

There had been speculation that Lamontagne was considering another attempt at the U.S. Senate seat, held by Shaheen, next year.

But his new post puts that to rest. And while he does not rule out an eventual return to politics, he said, "My exclusive focus will be on this work."

"Coming to this decision has been a journey," he said. "I was not looking to leave Devine Millimet or take on a new position, but an opportunity presented itself and I started a conversation with them," Lamontagne said. "One thing led to another."

Lamontagne said the new post as general counsel "brings together their legal work with their political work, and I will be overseeing both sides of the organization's efforts." He will resign from Devine Millimet on May 6, when he begins work in Washington.

He said he will remain as chairman of the Bishop's Charitable Fund until the end of his current term on the board on Dec. 31, 2015.

Lamontagne said that "even within the parameters of the Roe V. Wade decision, there are a lot of common sense regulation and limitations to abortion and other activities that impinge on the right-to-life."

He said AUL has model pieces of legislation that state legislatures can consider that "fall within the parameters of Roe V. Wade, such as the regulation of abortion clinics," which, he noted, are now under new scrutiny as a result of disturbing revelations surrounding an abortion clinic in Philadelphia.

"There is also work that needs to be done in our courts to test the limits not only of Roe V. Wade but other reasonable restrictions, so that the instances of abortion are rare," he said. "I think people across the political spectrum would agree with that and ultimately, like to see that they be eliminated altogether.

"But in the meantime, there is a real opportunity to have common sense regulations, such as parental notification, which we have adopted in New Hampshire," Lamontagne said.

Lamontagne said Americans United for Life is involved in many legal cases on the state and federal levels. He said he expects to argue cases personally in the courts in the future, although he said he will be working closely with AUL's legal team and lawyers throughout the country in the filing of "friend of the court" amicus briefs.

Lamontagne's long New Hampshire legal career has been marked by his role as outside general counsel of Catholic Medical Center from 1999 through 2013. He represented the interests of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester following the issuance of an Attorney General's Report on the proposed merger of CMC and the Elliot Hospital through Optima Health.

He later represented CMC in the Optima "de-merger" and CMC's return to its traditional role as a Catholic community hospital.

He also represented the Bishop of Manchester in the state's criminal investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy in the Diocese.

He negotiated a settlement agreement between the Diocese and the Attorney General's Office, which, Lamontagne said, was the first of its kind in the country. He also helped resolving clams and establishing a Diocese child protection, reporting and training program.

Lamontagne also represented owners of manufactured homes in a successful effort to establish their ability to purchase Medford Farms and Village at Glenn Falls; Daniel Webster College's sale to ITT Educational Systems, Franklin Regional Hospital in its merger with Lakes Region General Hospital and a group of retired judges in a lawsuit against the state over changes made to their retirement benefits.

Lamontagne represented the New Hampshire Republican Party in state and federal investigations and a civil action stemming from the "phone jamming" scandal during the 2002 general election.

Jim Merrill, Lamontagne's long-time friend, former associate at Devine Millimet and campaign consultant in 2010 and 2012, said he was "thrilled for Ovide and Bettie's exciting news.

"Ovide is not only one of the most decent and principled men that I know, but he is also one of the finest attorneys that our state has known," said Merrill, who is now a political strategist with the Bernstein Shur Group. "New Hampshire's loss will be the nation's gain as he takes on this important issue on Capitol Hill and in state houses throughout the country."

Shannon McGinley, former chairman and interim director of the conservative Cornerstone Policy Research group, said, "This is an exciting opportunity for both Ovide and the pro-life movement. He will bring a unique perspective of his legal and political experience to that role."

Manchester attorney Gordon MacDonald said AUL has long been known for high quality legal work at the forefront of the pro-life movement and for formulating model legislation for various states.

"New Hampshire will be losing, for the time being at least, one of its leading citizens," MacDonald said, citing Lamontagne's work with many nonprofits.

He also called Lamontagne "one of the most respected and accomplished" attorneys in the state.

"But the pro-life movement will gain a tremendous advocate and someone who is very skilled at presenting a case, and I'm thrilled for him that he will be able to deply his talents on a national level in aid of a cause he deeply believes in," said MacDonald.

(The original Monday, April 15, Granite Status follows.)



MONDAY, APRIL 15: With John E. Sununu out of the mix for higher office in 2014, attention in "Sununu-world" now turns to a little brother, 38-year-old Chris.

Chris made it known a month ago he is considering running for the 1st District U.S. House seat or for governor next year. But for now, Sununu is on the five-member Executive Council.

And in that role, Republican Sununu has a concern about Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan's nominee for a slot on the state Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, who may come to the council for a confirmation vote Wednesday.

Attorney general nominee Joe Foster is expected to breeze through confirmation unscathed. The more controversial nomination, at least in Sununu's estimation, is the so-far Dennis Caza of Goffstown to the racing-charitable gaming panel.

He, too, most likely will win confirmation with at least three, and possibly four, votes. But Sununu will raise concerns and will vote against him.

Caza is and has long been the lobbyist and political coordinator for the Teamsters Local 686 and is formally filed as a lobbyist for the Teamsters.

He did not return our calls, but Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg and AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie came to Caza's defense, with MacKenzie attributing Sununu's complaints to anti-union bias.

Sununu says it's not that. He said he has a problem with any lobbyist serving on a state commission. He said he especially has a problem with a Teamster serving on a state commission that regulates facilities - namely Rockingham Park and the Seabrook Greyhound Park - that employ Teamsters.

"He's a lobbyist and political coordinator who represents the workers in the two biggest gaming houses in the state. How is he going to sit on the regulatory board that provides them oversight?" Sununu said.

Sununu called that "a massive conflict of interest."

Sununu said Caza, who he called "a very nice guy and very forthcoming," confirmed to him in a frank conversation that the tracks employ Teamsters.

"I raised a concern with the governor about it, considering the importance of racing and charitable gaming in this state," Sununu said. "But she seemed confident that Mr. Caza's background was suitable for the position and that was essentially the end of the conversation."

"I have a concern about bringing any political coordinator or organizer on to any board position in the state," he said. "It's not a union issue; he's a lobbyist. He's part of the political machine.''

Caza "also has no experience in this area whatsoever and he admits that right off the bat," Sununu said. "We need people in there who have some sense of the pushes and pulls of not just what the job entails, but also where gaming is and where it should go."

Sununu believes the racing commission may eventually have a role in regulating gambling in the state if casino gambling is legalized.

It does not now and it has not been discussed, at least publicly.

Current legislation calls for the New Hampshire Lottery Commission and Department of Safety - and not the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission - to regulate casino gambling.

But Sununu is concerned that in the future, the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission could be a "much bigger piece of the regulatory framework of gaming going forward."

He said, in fact, he believes casino gambling would be better regulated by the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission than by the Lottery Commission because the racing panel has "experience and expertise" regulating facilities with table games.

But overall, he said, "We're talking about a major organization with a lot of political influence as well as their own initiative they're trying to achieve in this state, and obviously gaming is a big part of it."

Hassan spokesman Goldberg, after being told about Sununu's concerns, emailed us, "The governor is confident that Mr. Caza is fully capable of fulfilling the regulatory duties of a Racing and Charitable Gaming Commissioner and will provide an important workforce perspective on the commission.

"Furthermore," Goldberg said, "Councilor Sununu's speculation about hypothetical commission changes is unfounded as SB 152 (the casino gambling bill) directs casino oversight, enforcement, and regulation to the Lottery Commission and Department of Safety, and no mergers involving the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission are under consideration."

MacKenzie of the AFL-CIO said, "It's discouraging to see a public official attacking the reputation of an upstanding citizen and dedicated advocate for the working people of New Hampshire based on nothing more than Councilor Sununu's own bias."

Still, Sununu insisted, "When this nomination comes up at a time so critical in the gaming argument, I think it sends the wrong message."

QUICK TAKE: KUSTER'S FUND-RAISING: U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster today will announce her reelection campaign raised $315,000 in the first quarter of the year, which ended March 31.

John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at jdistaso@unionleader.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jdistaso.