NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 20, 2013

Reams remains suspended, as criminal probe continues

Rockingham Co. attorney appears in court

By John Toole
Staff Writer

---- — CONCORD — Suspended Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams is facing at least another month on the sidelines as the Attorney General’s Office pursues a criminal investigation of him.

Judge Richard McNamara, in an order issued after a hearing yesterday afternoon in Merrimack County Superior Court, said he would rule, but didn’t specify when, on what he believes is a request from Reams for preliminary injunctive relief that would allow him to return to work.

“Pending issuance of that order, the suspension of the Rockingham County Attorney shall remain in effect,” McNamara said.

In about 30 days, McNamara said, he will hold a further hearing on the matter and will schedule a hearing related to Reams’s legal battle with Rockingham County commissioners.

In another ruling the judge issued late Wednesday, McNamara denied Reams access to information about what the Attorney General’s Office is investigating.

But in that order, and again in the courtroom yesterday, McNamara warned the Attorney General’s Office that failure to provide a timeline for the investigation could result in the court allowing Reams access to such information.

Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards wouldn’t commit to a definite time for wrapping up the probe.

“We believe this investigation is going to take additional time,” Edwards said.

“It can’t go on forever,” McNamara told her.

“I can tell you six weeks is not too long,” Edwards said.

Reams, elected by the voters, was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 6 pending the outcome of an investigation involving “management and operational issues,” as well as allegations of sexual harassment and improper diversion of county funds.

Reams has denied any wrongdoing and argued that the Attorney General’s Office exceeded its authority in forcing his suspension.

“That was an unlawful act,” Michael Ramsdell, his attorney, told the judge.

He pointed to New Hampshire case law where other public officials had to receive notice and a hearing prior to suspension.

Edwards defended the need to keep Reams away from the office, saying the investigation involves questioning his subordinates and reviewing records.

Witnesses could be influenced, she said.

Ramsdell and Edwards both openly disagreed with McNamara’s opinions on the case yesterday.

Ramsdell said he wasn’t looking for a preliminary injunction at all, but rather a declaratory judgment settling the issue.

Edwards disagreed with the judge that a county attorney only could be suspended for a criminal investigation.

But McNamara said he is just one judge and both sides have a right to appeal his decisions.

The judge questioned Ramsdell about the public’s interest and what would happen should Reams be allowed to prosecute cases in the midst of his own investigation.

Ramsdell responded that nothing happens to those cases.

“They are not tainted in any way,” he said.

At one point, McNamara stressed Reams is convicted of nothing.

“Your client is presumed innocent,” McNamara said to Ramsdell. “It may well be these charges amount to nothing.”