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Rockingham County attorney suspension continues amid probe

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 19. 2013 6:29PM
Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams, right, listens to his attorney, Michael Ramsdell, at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams will remain suspended with pay from his job at least another 30 days, while Attorney General Joseph Foster's office continues its criminal and civil investigation into the management of the county office, with both sides returning to Merrimack County Superior Court in about 30 days for another hearing.

Reams was suspended Nov. 7, after the attorney general and the U.S. Attorney's Office kicked off an investigation. Reams appeared in court Thursday, but did not speak, or address the media afterward.

No specific allegations against Reams have been made public.

Appearing before Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara, Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards told the court her office's investigation includes a federal forfeiture fund Reams used.

Edwards categorized the investigation as "multifaceted," composed of both civil aspects centered around the "operations and management" at the office, as well as a "criminal component."

When asked by McNamara, she said she could not commit to a timetable as to when the investigation may wrap up.

"We're proceeding as quickly as possible," she said. "As you know, as you begin to pull the strings of an investigation, others can come unraveled."

Edwards said the investigation kicked off in mid-October, when her office received a call from a Rockingham County attorney alleging incidents of misconduct. Staff from the AG's office interviewed witnesses outside of Reams' office, and the U.S. Attorney's Office and Federal Bureau of Investigation were brought in on the investigation as well. The evidence was corroborated, and Foster decided to remove Reams from office, doing so on Nov. 6, in order to have "an unfettered investigation" when speaking to additional witnesses and examining documents.

Edwards said on Nov. 7 that five teams of state and federal investigators were at the Rockingham County attorney's office, spending the next six days going over records and interviewing more than 50 people. Edwards said that during those interviews, "additional financial issues as well as ethical issues" came to light.

As in previous court appearances, Edwards did not reveal any specfic details about the issues or investigation.

Reams' attorney, Michael Ramsdell, on Thursday again argued against the attorney general's right to remove his client from office, while also requesting discovery information into the investigation against Reams.

Judge's denial

Judge McNamara denied Ramsdell's request in a 12-page order emailed to both parties on Wednesday.

Ramsdell said that the judge's statement that Thursday's hearing was a preliminary injunction was wrong, and that he instead he was before the court asking for a reconsideration of the decision to suspend Reams from office last month. Ramsdell said that the only other case on record involving the removal of a county attorney in New Hampshire, Eames vs. Rudman in 1975, involved an attorney that was removed after authorities brought a misdemeanor charge against the attorney after completing a brief investigation. Ramsdell said that in this case Reams was suspended without notice, when he "wasn't even in the state," and that seven weeks later no charges have been brought against his client.

Ramsdell argued that the attorney general didn't have authority to remove Reams from office, but McNamara disagreed - while adding that a criminal probe must be "active" to give them the ability to do so.

In his ruling on discovery, McNamara states he does not feel that the attorney general can permanently remove a county attorney from office and should not be allowed to conduct investigatory action when dealing solely with a civil claim. Only a criminal complaint could be used as a reason for removal, he said.

Edwards disagreed, saying that it was the attorney general's belief that a county attorney could be removed even in a civil investigation.

McNamara argued that the attorney general had "no authority to remove," suggesting that if the AG's office wanted to remove a county attorney for misconduct, it could bring forward a complaint and outline the reasons, a process that would include the discovery that Ramsdell was requesting, along with a trial.

After a 30-minute recess, both sides met privately and agreed to come back to court in about 30 days (an early suggested date was Jan. 21) to take up the case again. A separate motion by Reams against the Rockingham County Commissioners had been scheduled to be heard Jan. 2, but now it will be rescheduled to take place on the same date.

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