EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

March 12, 2014

Who was watching Rockingham County's chief watchman?

There’s an ancient question attributed to the Roman satirist Juvenal: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Who will watch the watchmen themselves?

It’s a challenge that has echoed down the centuries and one we still wrestle with today.

Those to whom we assign the responsibility of guarding us from wrongdoers are entrusted with tremendous power. But who makes sure those guardians don’t abuse their power to commit wrongdoing of their own?

In a democratic society, the answer is the people themselves, either through their elected representatives or directly at the polls.

That system appears to have failed us in the case of suspended Rockingham County Attorney James Reams.

Reams as the county’s top law enforcement official and criminal prosecutor until his suspension last November wielded enormous power over his own staff and over anyone who ran afoul of the criminal justice system, or needed its help.

He abused that power, according to a 25-page complaint released yesterday, election day in New Hampshire, by Attorney General Joseph A. Foster and the Rockingham County commissioners, who are Reams’ immediate bosses.

The complaint seeks the immediate removal of Reams from office. Reams has asked a superior court judge to reinstate him so he can complete his term in office; he says will not seek re-election this fall.

The list of allegations in the attorney general’s complaint is stunning, and the AG said there is more evidence of misconduct to come. Reams has not been charged criminally.

Among the examples of misconduct, according to the complaint:

— For 14 years, women in Reams’ office were subjected to various forms of sexual harassment and retaliation.

— Reams manipulated the management of an account that collected fines for liquor and gambling infractions. Reams also commingled that money with federal money for assisting with federal law enforcement cases.

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