EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 12, 2013

Reams case heads to court today

Complaints include sexual harassment, not properly distributing county money

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — BRENTWOOD — The lawyer for Rockingham County Attorney James Reams will appear in court today to find out why his client was suspended.

In a court motion filed this week, Reams admits there have been several complaints of inappropriate conduct made against him over the years he believes will be raised during his reinstatement hearing Dec. 19.

They include allegations the eight-term county attorney called a woman in his office “babe,” and that some female employees believe he “enjoys when they wear high heels.”

He also was 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, Reams allegedly touched her on the thigh.

While Reams and attorney Michael Ramsdell claim these and other alleged inappropriate incidents didn’t occur, the county attorney does admit to joking he hoped his employees did not become pregnant, the motion said. The attorney general’s office investigated the “babe” remark and was not able to prove Reams made the comment.

Reams also was accused of making inappropriate remarks about birth control, victims and “assistant county attorneys going on trips with him under sexually suggestive conditions,” the motion said.

“I can tell you I didn’t touch any woman sexually in that office or any other place,” Reams said yesterday. “I think there are agendas at work here. It’s clearly to make me unelectable.”

Sexual harassment allegations and the diversion of county money have become a central focus of the investigation against Reams, county commissioners said yesterday. The commissioners met with Attorney General Joseph Foster and representatives from his office for about two hours Tuesday.

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, investigated “management and operational issues” within the office. Foster suspended Reams’ authority as a prosecutor.

Reams said he’s been asked by the attorney general’s office to resign, but has not been informed of the allegations him and why he should step down. He was first elected in 1998.

Details of the alleged inappropriate conduct are expected to surface during the hearing at 1:30 p.m. today in Merrimack County Superior Court. Reams said he did not plan on attending the hearing.

Ramsdell said he has asked Judge Richard McNamara to decide if the attorney general’s office should provide more information on the allegations against his client. They are preparing for Reams’ reinstatement hearing.

Reams also is facing allegations he violated state law and diverted 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 criminal investigations instead of putting it in the county’s general fund, County Commissioner Kevin Coyle said.

No other county attorney in the state follows that practice, he said.

Coyle said Reams became angry and defensive when he questioned him about it shortly after becoming a commissioner in January.

“I immediately knew there was a problem and asked Jim about it and said, ‘That’s not your money. That belongs to the county,’” Coyle said. “That’s more than $100,000 in county money.”

Reams said he stopped distributing the money to police departments throughout the county after Coyle raised the issue. He said about $125,000 had been allocated to the departments in the past five or six years.

“It’s basically drug dealers’ money,” he said. “We did press conferences saying we returned money to the community. We made no attempt to hide it.”

Reams is filing a lawsuit against the three county commissioners for preventing him from accessing his office at the Rockingham County Courthouse. The county attorney said he needs files in the office to prepare his defense.

Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti is serving as interim county attorney in his absence.