Editor’s note: This editorial is reprinted with permission from Thursday’s Portsmouth Herald.
Attorney General Joseph Foster’s mistaken and misguided removal of Jim Reams, Rockingham County’s elected county attorney, has resulted in a long list of losers and not a single winner.
On Tuesday, Reams accepted an early retirement deal in which taxpayers will give him $42,000 to take the summer off, in addition to all the money he’s been paid this past year while suspended. So the taxpayers funded a year’s salary for the county attorney and received nothing in return.
State taxpayers also had their hard-earned dollars wasted by all the time spent by the attorney general’s office staff on this failed prosecution.
Rockingham County voters, who chose Reams as county attorney in eight consecutive elections, lost out big time as their duly elected official was stripped of power by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, which failed to make a case. This action hurt not only Rockingham County voters, but undermined the security of elected officials across the Granite State.
Foster is a loser because he took the dramatic step of removing an elected official, failed to make a case against him, and saw a judge reverse his action and reinstate Reams to office.
Reams is a loser because at the end of a long, successful career, his reputation has been tarnished by charges that were never substantiated or fully refuted.
Reams’ wife, children and grandchildren are innocent victims who had to watch in horror as a man they love suffered damaging accusations without a chance to clear his name.
The women allegedly harassed by Reams lost because they were never given their day in court, and their accusations, which we take seriously, remained just that — unsubstantiated accusations. The women never received a ruling from the courts on whether they, in fact, had been victims of harassment.
The county commissioners lose because they emerge from this process looking like a hyper-political group of vipers who unnecessarily disrupted criminal justice in Rockingham County and wasted taxpayer money.
While the initial investigation into allegations of harassment and financial irregularities seemed to have some integrity, in the end, the situation devolved into a chaotic mess of political mudslinging and, like a contagious disease, damaged all who came in contact with it.
The lesson from this fiasco is that, in the future, this attorney general and his successors had better have a whole lot more substantial proof of criminal activity before removing an elected official from office.
In the thick of the controversy, we received a letter from Henry Garza, president of the National District Attorneys Association, who succinctly laid out the dangerous precedent set by Foster.
“Rockingham County prosecutes over 2,800 felony offenders per year, and by any measuring stick available, does so very effectively,” Garza wrote. “Do we really want a system where any one of those offenders, or a disgruntled employee, or a political rival, can merely make a complaint draped in a false tapestry of legitimacy which results in the will of the People being overturned for an indefinite period of time?”
Obviously the answer is no. There needs to be a much higher standard for removing elected officials from public office, and that threshold clearly was not met in the Reams case, to the detriment of us all.