By Doug Ireland
---- — BRENTWOOD — Investigators were releasing few details yesterday on why Rockingham County Attorney James Reams and two other employees in his office were suspended.
Attorney General Joseph Foster and U.S. Attorney John 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, reached yesterday morning while in Texas for a conference, 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 said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
Reams was contacted Wednesday night, as was Reid, and ordered to stay away from the county attorney’s office at Rockingham Superior Court.
Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti was appointed interim county attorney following a judge’s approval of an emergency court order.
Foster said his office began investigating the county attorney’s office after receiving a complaint from a former employee two weeks ago.
“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 yesterday morning. “The interviews corroborated the allegations made by the complainant and raised other issues.”
But Foster, Kacavas and Associate Attorney General Jane Young would not identify the employee nor elaborate further.
“The allegations were significant,” Foster said.
They also would not confirm that a third employee was placed on paid administrative leave, although county commissioners said they took that action after meeting with Foster, Kacavas, Young, the FBI and other investigators for three hours late Wednesday.
Foster called Reams to tell him his prosecuting authority was suspended. County Commissioner Kevin Coyle notified Reid that his powers were suspended as well, commission Chairwoman Katherin Pratt said.
Reams, 66, of Hampton is a U.S. Navy veteran who was first elected county attorney in 1998 after starting as an intern in the office in 1976.
He briefly served as an assistant county attorney before leaving to start his own practice in 1978. Reams, re-elected to another two-year term last year, was an attorney in the Hampton and Exeter areas for 20 years.
The county attorney’s office prosecutes cases for 37 police departments, the county sheriff’s department, state police and other state agencies.
Reid, often called on to prosecute high-profile cases in the office, had worked there for 16 years. Those cases include the upcoming trial of Plaistow child abuse suspect Roland Dow. He could not be reached for comment.
Kacavas would not confirm a published report that the investigation was launched because female employees in the office complained of unequal treatment.
He did say his office will release further information when it can and not jeopardize the investigation.
“The goal is to keep the public as apprised as we can — it is their office,” Kacavas said.
He would not say if anyone else could be disciplined.
“It’s too early to tell,” Kacavas said.
The U.S. attorney’s office joined the investigation last week after being contacted by the attorney general’s office.
Boffetti, a former public defender who oversaw that office, took over operation of the county attorney’s office yesterday morning. He said he would work to maintain justice in the office.
He confirmed that FBI agents were in the office much of yesterday, interviewing employees, but would not confirm a report that office computers were seized.
Boffetti, who has worked for the attorney general’s office for six years and leads its consumer protection bureau, said he could not comment on the investigation.
“Jim (Reams) has been advised by the attorney general’s office not to enter the building,” Boffetti said. “My job is to keep this office going and let them administer justice.”
Boffetti said the investigation did not disrupt cases heard in court yesterday.
“Everyone here is buckling down and doing their work,” he said.
Coyle said county commissioners will oversee the office’s financial operations, while Boffetti handles the rest.
Coyle, Pratt and fellow Commissioner Thomas Tombarello said they were surprised when they learned of the allegations.
Tombarello, who said he knows both Reams and Reid personally, said he was disappointed to hear they were being investigated.
“These allegations are disheartening to me,” he said. “I hope they are not true.”