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April 22. 2014 10:48PM

AG asks court to bar Reams from office


State prosecutors are seeking an injunction to keep Rockingham County Attorney James Reams out of office days after a judge decided he should reinstated. (JAMES A. KIMBLE/FILE PHOTO)

BRENTWOOD — State prosecutors are seeking an injunction to keep embattled Rockingham County Attorney James Reams from returning to his office just days after a judge ordered his reinstatement.

Attorney General Joe Foster filed the request on Friday to keep Reams, an eight-term Republican from Hampton, out of his elected post while removal proceedings are pending against him.

If a judge agrees to the state’s request for a hearing, prosecutors would be allowed to call witnesses to testify about Reams’ alleged misconduct.

The hearing could happen as early as next week.

Reams was suspended from his prosecutorial duties on the night of Nov. 6 amid a state and federal investigation that concluded he sexually harassed employees, discriminated against others and mismanaged a forfeiture account that he used to fund training and to purchase office equipment, according to the state.

Prosecutors argued that if Reams returns to his job, he will retaliate against employees who either complained about him or expressed misgivings about how he managed the County Attorney’s Office.

“In addition, his conduct will have a direct, negative impact on the work being done by the employees in the office and this will in turn have an impact on prosecutions,” Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said in court papers.

Reams’ lawyer responds

Reams’ lawyer, Michael Ramsdell, protested the state’s request on Tuesday and asked a judge to not consider the accusation about Reams’ intent to act out against subordinates within his office.

“The allegation is unfounded, impertinent and scandalous,” Ramsdell said in a response filed Tuesday.

The state Attorney General’s Office ultimately did not press any criminal charges against Reams following its five-month investigation, and instead filed a civil complaint asking a judge to remove him for misconduct.

Judge Richard McNamara concluded on April 10 that Reams could not be barred from his elected post while civil removal proceedings were underway since no criminal case was pending against him.

Edwards argued in a new court filing that Reams’ reaction to past investigations about alleged harassment demonstrate “he will affirmatively attack the victims of his misconduct.”

Reams was investigated in 1999 by then-Attorney General Phil McLaughlin and again recently by the county’s human resources department for sexual harassment, but the two investigations apparently ended without any kind of punishment, according to state prosecutors.

On Tuesday, Ramsdell also accused the state of using “untruths and half-truths” in court to bolster their argument for a hearing on the injunction.

He said that one unnamed county employee, who is cited in the removal complaint, has said she has no issue with Reams returning to his job. Another employee in the petition also said she was not discriminated against, according to Ramsdell.

But Edwards contended that Reams will soon be receiving statements from “other employees expressing criticism and displeasure with Reams’ misconduct and/or manner of managing” the County Attorney’s Office.

McNamara had suggested in earlier rulings that the state could seek an injunction to keep Reams out of his $85,000-a-year job if it could demonstrate in court that the petition to remove him would likely be successful.Prior to McNamara’s April 2 decision, state prosecutors expressed doubt about whether they could prevail in showing Reams’ return to office would result in “irreparable harm” since he was already suspended from office.

Foster has also appealed McNamara’s decision to re-instate Reams. That order restoring Reams to office was issued with a 30-day delay so the state could seek relief from the state Supreme Court.

Reams, who has denied any wrongdoing, said he will not seek reelection when his term expires in January.

jkimble@newstote.com


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