, Newburyport, MA

November 12, 2013

Our view: Public owed explanation of county attorney probe

Newburyport Daily News

---- — There needs to be a full and public accounting of the reasons for the suspension of Rockingham County Attorney James Reams and two other employees in his office. The current silence from New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster and U.S. Attorney John Kacavas will not suffice.

Reams is the chief prosecutor in the county, which includes coastal communities from Seabrook to Portsmouth and dozens of other towns in eastern New Hampshire. The county attorney’s office prosecutes cases for 37 police departments, the county sheriff’s department, state police and other state agencies.

When a public official is under investigation, the public has a right to know what the allegations involve.

Last week, Foster and Kacavas announced that Reams and his second-in-command, Deputy County Attorney Thomas Reid, were placed on paid administrative leave while investigators probe “management and operational issues” at the office. Reams, at a conference in Texas, and Reid were contacted Wednesday night and ordered to stay away from the county attorney’s office at Rockingham Superior Court in Brentwood.

A third employee may have been suspended as well, but Foster and Kacavas would not confirm that.

Reams, reached by a reporter Thursday morning, said he was surprised to have been suspended and could not comment. He said he was still trying to sort out the details.

“I can’t talk about it,” Reams told a reporter. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

Foster provided few details of the investigation into Reams and his office. Foster said the attorney general’s office began an investigation after receiving a complaint from a former employee of the county attorney’s office two weeks ago. Foster would not describe the nature of the complaint.

“The interview led us to a number of other former employees we interviewed, along with agents from the FBI,” Foster said during a press conference at Superior Court Thursday morning. “The interviews corroborated the allegations made by the complainant and raised other issues.”

Foster described the allegations as “significant.” The involvement of the FBI and the U.S. attorney suggests the allegations involve federal law.

Reams, 66, was elected county attorney in 1998. The Hampton resident and Navy veteran was a private attorney in Hampton and Exeter for 20 years.

Reid, a 16-year veteran of the county attorney’s office, often prosecutes the department’s high-profile cases.

Meanwhile, Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti will be running the county attorney’s office. Boffetti was appointed interim county attorney following a judge’s approval of an emergency court order.

Reams’ duty is to prosecute fully those who violate the law. Now, he is being investigated for misdeeds of his own.

It is important for the public to know and understand the nature of these allegations so they can judge for themselves whether the trust they have placed in Reams and his office is merited.

Kacavas has promised that his office will release what information it can without jeopardizing the investigation.

“The goal is to keep the public as apprised as we can — it is their office,” Kacavas said.

In assessing what is to be made public, the U.S. attorney’s office should tilt its judgment toward a full and honest accounting of the facts in this matter.