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Rockingham County Attorney James Reams is asking a judge to toss out the removal complaint filed against him by the state. (JAMES A. KIMBLE/FILE PHOTO)

Rockingham County Attorney seeks dismissal of removal complaint

BRENTWOOD — Rockingham County Attorney James Reams is arguing that the state’s complaint seeking his removal from office should be thrown out of court because he cannot be held liable for conduct that occurred during any of his prior seven terms in office.

Defense lawyer Michael Ramsdell asked a judge on Wednesday to dismiss the state’s complaint against Reams, who is accused of sexual harassment, mismanagement of a forfeiture fund and violating rules of professional conduct for lawyers.

The argument comes four days after state prosecutors asked Judge Richard McNamara for an expedited hearing so they could obtain an injunction to bar Reams from returning to his job as Rockingham County’s top law enforcement officer.

Such a hearing could prompt a fuller airing of witness testimony and other evidence collected during the state’s five-month investigation into operations at the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office.

Reams has remained on paid suspension from his $85,000-a-year job since Nov. 6.

Ramsdell said that a pair of 1973 state Supreme Court decisions regarding efforts to remove a Grafton County sheriff and a Hillsborough County commissioner supported his argument that any alleged wrongdoing from previous terms in office should not be used to remove Reams from his current term.

“Both county officials raised the defense that removal could not be premised on conduct that was alleged to have occurred during a previous term of office,” Ramsdell said in a court motion.

Reams, an eight-term Republican from Hampton, began his current two-year term in January 2012. Only one of the allegations against Reams in the removal complaint occurred during his current term in office, according to Ramsdell.

State prosecutors say that Reams misled Rockingham County Commissioners in a February 2013 memo in which he justified collecting court fines that were funneled into an asset forfeiture fund for his office.

Ramsdell argued that the forfeiture issue in not enough of a basis to support a finding of official misconduct under state law.

Reams wants McNamara to weigh tossing out the removal complaint prior to deciding whether he will grant the state’s request for an expedited hearing seeking an injunction.

Ramsdell is also asking McNamara to order the state to reimburse Reams’ legal fees incurred during his six-month court battle.

Prosecutors are also appealing an April 10 decision McNamara made regarding the lawsuit that Reams filed against the state. In that case, the judge ruled that Reams had to be reinstated because no criminal charges were pending against him.