, Newburyport, MA

March 12, 2014

State claims against Reams are many

Sexual harassment, ethical lapses, financial mismanagement among the complaints

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
Staff writer

---- — CONCORD, N.H. — The state wants suspended Rockingham County Attorney James Reams out of office, now and forever.

Attorney General Joseph Foster and the Rockingham County Commission outlined their reasons for seeking Reams’s removal in a 25-page complaint filed yesterday in Merrimack Superior Court.

Reams is accused of sexual harassment, misappropriation of funds, ethical lapses, gender discrimination, misleading county commissioners and creating a hostile work environment.

Reams, 66, has been suspended since Nov. 6, the beginning of a joint state and federal investigation. Reams, who was first elected in 1998, continues to receive his $85,000 annual salary.

He has been fighting to get his job back since he was suspended. Late last year, he threatened to sue the three-member County Commission for barring him from accessing his office in the county courthouse in Brentwood.

A hearing on his request for reinstatement originally was scheduled for yesterday, but delayed until April 7 following the death of his mother in late February.

Reams’s attorney Michael Ramsdell said yesterday his client denies all allegations and they can now move forward in proving his innocence.

“Jim is glad that the allegations have been made public so he can have the opportunity to discover the source of the allegations. ... He has waited for this opportunity,” Ramsdell said. “Jim Reams denies sexually harassing anyone.”

Two other members of Reams’s staff — Deputy County Attorney Thomas Reid and victim witness advocate Tara Longo also were suspended in November. Longo and Reid both resigned in January. Reid, a 15-year veteran and second in command under Reams, was never accused of any criminal wrongdoing.

The complaint is rife with claims of misconduct against Reams and outlines an alleged pattern of inappropriate conduct that started soon after he took office in early 1999.

Over the course of 14 years, female employees in Reams’s office were subjected to “alleged sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, improper application of the Family Medical Leave Act and retaliation,” the complaint alleges.

The state also accuses Reams of improper use of county funds.

The state claims Reams manipulated a forfeiture account, fines collected through liquor and gambling enforcement. In doing so, the complaint says, Reams misrepresented applicable statute to the county commissioners. The statute, the complaint states, clearly directs such funds be paid to the county, not to the county attorney’s office.

Reams allegedly deposited those misdirected funds into an account with federal funds awarded for helping with federal drug cases. The state does not contest the appropriateness of Reams’s office receiving the federal drug money, but says he was not entitled to the forfeiture funds and the two should not have been commingled.

The state claims Reams spent nearly $250,000 of those “unappropriated funds” between 2003 and 2013 to reimburse himself for travel, meals, office equipment and other expenses.

The county attorney spent money “for which the County Convention had no appropriation,” in violation of state law, the complaint says.

The complaint says Reams converted county funds for his own benefit and that of his office, and submitted “false and misleading documents to federal, state and county officials.”

Gambling and liquor enforcements fines are, by statute, directed to the town, county or state for whom the prosecutor works, not to the prosecutor.

But, since 2005, the complaint alleges, Reams was depositing those fines in an account maintained by his office and controlled solely by him.

“Notably, none of the other nine county attorneys maintains a similar account,” the complaint notes.

The accounting practice continued until late 2012, when the County Commission contested it. Reams, in response, “misrepresented” state statute and told commissioners the fines were to be paid to the prosecutor, the complaint alleges.

It further alleges Reams failed to file timely certifications and affidavits regarding asset forfeiture funds, then did so years later in order to qualify for more federal funds.

“Reams’s lack of honesty and candor in the management of his forfeiture account make him unfit to be the county’s chief law enforcement officer,” the complaint says.

Between 2007 and 2013, Reams traveled widely — to Honolulu, Orlando, Washington, D.C., and beyond, according to the complaint. Some of those trips were funded through his office’s budget, the complaint says, but many were not. Those other trips, the state claims, were funded through the forfeiture account with “no county approval or oversight.”

“Documentation regarding Reams’s travel reimbursements included memos from Reams to Reams authorizing payment,” the complaint states. “Checks drawn from the forfeiture account were made payable to Reams, and signed by Reams.”

The complaint also alleges Reams often paid himself a federal per diem rate while traveling, using the forfeiture account, and also reimbursed himself for meals and hotel charges.

On at least one occasion, Reams charged the county for his wife’s meal when she joined him and several others at a dinner in Portsmouth.

“In total,” the complaint reads, “Reams distributed over $240,000 from this forfeiture account over which he had sole control.”

Longo enters into the complaint, too. The state alleges Reams knew Longo had lied on her resume when she applied for the victim/witness advocate post, but he failed to tell his own prosecutors, the court or defense attorneys about it. The complaint says Reams was obligated to do so under both state law and the N.H. Rules of Professional Conduct.

Just months after Reams first took office, the Attorney General’s Office received a complaint of sexual harassment against him. The investigation concluded and the attorney general at the time sent Reams a letter about his findings, but also concluded the behavior had improved, if not ended. That proved not to be true, according to the complaint filed yesterday.

“Reams not only refused to accept responsibility for his actions, he has continued to engage in similar behavior ever since,” the complaint states.

The behavior includes inviting employees to bring their bathing suits to his condominium for drinks and a dip in the hot tub, inappropriate and unwanted physical contact with female employees, telling female employees not to get pregnant, and retaliating against those who did, the complaint claims.

“Reams’s conduct toward women in his office earned him the nickname ‘creepy Uncle Jim’ among some of his employees,” the complaint states.

Reams was the subject of another investigation in 2012 by the Rockingham County Human Resources Department.

“(Human Resources) concluded that a hostile work environment existed and that retaliation had occurred,” the complaint says.

Reams accepted no responsibility for his actions nor the work environment, according to the state.

“His misconduct far exceeds the ordinary misjudgment standard for removal,” the complaint states. “His actions were deliberate, pervasive and breached the public’s trust inherent in the duties of a county attorney.”

The complaint alleges Reams’s misconduct “has encompassed his entire tenure” and he is unfit for the post.

The attorney general and the county commissioners are asking the court to remove Reams from the office.

His term expires at the end of this year and he has announced he will not seek re-election.