BRENTWOOD — As news spread across Rockingham County about the suspension of the longtime county attorney and his deputy, county delegation members reacted with a mix of shock, confusion and support for James Reams and Tom Reid.
"I've always had the utmost respect for Jim Reams," Rep. Kevin Waterhouse, R-Windham, said on Friday. "I'm shocked there could be any allegations of any wrongdoing."
Waterhouse is among the 90-member county delegation waiting to see what further details will be made public in the wake of the removal of Reams, the longtime county attorney, and Deputy County Attorney Tom Reid late Wednesday. While Reams was suspended, Reid was placed on paid leave, along with a victim-witness advocate.
Attorney General Joe Foster and U.S. Attorney John Kacavas revealed on Thursday morning that a joint state and federal probe is underway investigating operational and managerial issues within Reams' office.
The delegation — made up of state representatives — would be the county panel charged with replacing Reams should he resign or be permanently ousted from the elected office he has held since 1998.
A complaint by a former employee set off the investigation, leading the FBI to interview several former and current employees who also worked under Reams and Reid.
Now, delegation members are faced with possibly naming a replacement to Reams to fill out his two-year term, which was renewed in the last election.
"It struck me by surprise. I didn't know anything that was going on," state Rep. Bob Fesh, R-Derry, said on Friday. "Apparently, they have evidence."
The delegation interacts with Reams and Reid on a regular basis, either when deliberating over annual budgets, or by serving alongside them on subcommittees that deal with personnel and long-term planning.
"Tom is very knowledgeable," Fesh said. "At meetings, he has answers for nearly everything."
Fesh said he is concerned about the integrity and credibility of Reams' office, but said it makes no sense, since the county attorney's office has operated "for 15 years with no problems."
Waterhouse said he was "very skeptical" over the allegations that prompted the investigation, "because you are looking at an ex-employee (making the complaint), so they may have a grudge."
State Rep. Norm Major, R-Plaistow, who chairs the county delegation, said he was "shocked and surprised" by the announcement by Foster and Kacavas.
Major said he has had little luck gleaning any details about the investigation for himself.
"I have talked to the commissioners and they can't say anything right now," Major said.
On Friday, Major said he met with the delegation's clerk to review the state statutes that may be relevant if the county delegation must suddenly appoint a new top law enforcement officer.
Reams would either have to resign or be removed from his elected position for that to happen.
The attorney general exercised a rarely-used collection of state laws and a 1975 state Supreme Court case to suspend Reams from his elected duties.
Foster petitioned a Merrimack County Superior Court judge on Wednesday to install Senior Assistant Attorney General Jim Boffetti as Reams' interim replacement.
Reid is a county employee. County commissioners agreed to put Reid and a victim witness advocate on paid administrative leave after meeting in nonpublic session with Foster, Kacavas and the FBI on Wednesday afternoon.
Boffetti was put in the office to make sure that Reams' office remains on task prosecuting the majority of felony cases in Rockingham County.
"I know Jim Boffetti. You've got a very capable guy there to hold the office together," said State Rep. Gene Charron, R-Chester.
Charron, who was superintendent at the Rockingham County Jail for 11 years before retiring, said he was surprised to see the law enforcement agencies that were involved in the investigation, but is waiting to see what information comes forth.
"I expect something to be released that will make some sense," Charron said.
Boffetti, chief of the state's consumer protection and anti-trust bureau, will likely have to pick up on other duties Reams carried out while the investigation continues, according to several delegation members.
Reams and Reid have been working with a subcommittee of the delegation undertaking an 18-month study of how to best tackle overcrowding at the county jail. Major, who said he is eager to meet Boffetti, said his input will be crucial as the panel moves forward with its study.