By Doug Ireland
---- — CONCORD — A judge has rejected suspended Rockingham County Attorney James Reams’ request for immediate reinstatement as the Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate his conduct.
In his 16-page decision, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara agrees with the Attorney General’s Office’s contention it needs more time to thoroughly investigate allegations against Reams.
“It is simply a matter of fact that criminal investigations, properly conducted, may require substantial time, to ensure that the guilty are charged and the innocent are not,” McNamara ruled.
Reams was suspended by Rockingham County commissioners in November amid allegations of “management and operational issues” within the office. Attorney General Joseph Foster revoked Reams’ authority as a prosecutor.
Later, allegations of sexual harassment and improper diversion of county funds found Reams and attorney Michael Ramsdell defending the reputation of the 15-year county attorney.
“I can tell you I didn’t touch any woman sexually in that office or any other place,” Reams said. “I think there are agendas at work here. It’s clearly to make me unelectable.”
Reams, Deputy County Attorney Thomas Reid and a third unidentified employee were placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 6 while state and federal authorities, including the FBI, conducted their investigation. Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti is serving as interim county attorney in Reams’ absence.
The allegations against the eight-term county attorney include calling a woman in his office “babe, and that some female employees believe he “enjoys when they wear high heels,” Reams said in court documents.
Reams was also accused of touching an assistant county attorney after informing her a button on her blouse had come undone, showing her bra and cleavage. At another time, he allegedly touched her on the thigh.
While Reams and Ramsdell claimed these and other alleged inappropriate incidents did not occur, the county attorney did confirm another allegation.
Reams admitted to joking he hoped his employees did not become pregnant. The attorney general’s office investigated the “babe” remark and was not able to prove he made the comment.
Reams is also accused of violating state law by diverting money received through court fines for liquor and gambling violations and the forfeiture of assets seized by law enforcement.
The money was distributed to police departments involved in the criminal investigations instead of being put in the county’s general fund, according to County Commissioner Kevin Coyle.
After a hearing Dec. 19, McNamara determined Reams’ reinstatement request was only for a preliminary injunction that would allow him to immediately return to office while the investigation continued.
But McNamara said in his decision, handed down last week, that another hearing would have to be held to resolve the case. That hearing is set for Jan. 21.
Meanwhile, Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards has said more time would be needed to investigate the numerous allegations against by Reams made by his employees. She did not give a timetable for the investigation at the hearing Dec. 19 and could not be reached for comment yesterday.
McNamara stressed during the hearing that while the state needed time to make sure justice was properly served, “It can’t go on forever.”
Reams and Ramsdell have argued the Attorney General’s Office exceeded its authority in forcing the suspension.
Neither Reams nor Ramsdell, who is on vacation, could be reached yesterday for comment on McNamara’s ruling.
Coyle and fellow County Commissioner Thomas Tombarello said they agreed with the judge’s decision to deny Reams’s immediate reinstatement.
“We can’t have that investigation jeopardized by an employee coming back at this time,” Tombarello said.
Tombarello said he’s also concerned the two other members of Reams’ office placed on leave continue to be paid by the county while they are not working. The two earn a combined $160,000 a year, he said.
“The county is picking up that money during this investigation,” he said.
Ever since the investigation began, no details have been released on Reid and the other employee.
Coyle, who is also the Londonderry Police Department prosecutor, said he felt McNamara made the right decision but could not comment further.
“I think the judge made the correct legal ruling,” he said.