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AG prosecutor named interim county attorney

BRENTWOOD — The state Attorney General’s Office will maintain oversight of county prosecutions until voters elect a new county attorney in the fall.

County delegation members approved an agreement with the state in a 32-23 vote on Monday morning to maintain state oversight of the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office.

The decision was reached after roughly an hour of debate.

It came three weeks after James Reams retired from the county attorney post, before the state could seek his removal from office.

James Boffetti, a senior assistant attorney general, will resume duties as interim county attorney until the fall election. The winner of the county attorney election will then be sworn in early to assume office.

“It will get us through the storm and it will let the voters decide,” Rep. Gene Charron, R-Chester, said on Monday about the appointment.

Several supporters of the measure — including longtime Republicans — said that their vote was not based on party lines, but to let voters ultimately decide who will become the county’s next top law enforcement officer. Five people are vying for the position, including four Republican candidates.

Part of the memorandum of understanding approved Monday resolved that no one running for the county attorney job would be appointed to the interim post. The memorandum was crafted by a group of delegation members and the Attorney General’s Office.

Two subcommittees approved the memorandum in votes that ran 3-2 and 10-3 in favor, prior to the full delegation considering the proposal.

Before Monday’s appointment, Boffetti was interim county attorney for six months while Reams was suspended during the investigation.

Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, said her vote to approve keeping Boffetti had nothing to do with Democratic or Republican sentiments about the Reams case.

“I believe in what the executive board has done and I thought they had done a good job,” she said.

Opponents of the agreement with the state wanted retired judge Robert Morrill to assume the county attorney post until the fall.

Morrill was a choice that Reams supported, said Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston.

“He was a good fit for the job,” Weyler said of Morrill.

Weyler, who has been a critic of the Reams investigation, also questioned why Reams was stripped of his ability to name a successor to run the office.

Reams struck an agreement with state prosecutors to return to office on April 30, but could not appoint a deputy county attorney.

Reams did name Assistant County Attorney Patricia Conway as an acting deputy before leaving office, but she later acknowledged Reams had no authority to name her to the post.

State prosecutors filed a court petition in March to remove Reams from elected office for alleged misconduct that included sexually harassing female employees, misusing a forfeiture account and ethical violations. Reams denied any wrongdoing.

Rep. Joe Sweeney, R-Salem, said he disagreed that the state should be allowed to maintain oversight of county prosecutors and did not want an interim appointment to be a burden on state resources.

Rep. Ronald Belanger, R- Salem, also said he felt Morrill could have done a good job, and questioned whether Boffetti would have to split his time between his state job and county attorney position.

Boffetti will be paid by the state during his stint as interim county attorney, but will maintain some duties as chief of the state’s Consumer Protection Bureau. The agreement stipulates that Boffetti’s primary duties will be managing the county attorney’s office. Boffetti was sworn in on Monday.

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