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Prosecutors to challenge judge's ruling to reinstate Rockingham County attorney

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CONCORD, New Hampshire — New Hampshire's attorney general plans to challenge a judge's ruling that the continued suspension of the Rockingham County attorney is illegal.

A judge on Thursday ordered the reinstatement of Jim Reams but gave the attorney general's office 30 days to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Attorney General Joseph Foster suspended Reams' power to prosecute on Nov. 6 amid an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and financial mismanagement. The county commissioners, at Foster's request, barred Reams from entering the office he has held for 15 years.

"Allegations, no matter how inflammatory, are not a substitute for evidence," Merrimack Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara wrote.

Reams and his lawyer, Michael Ramsdell, have challenged the legality of his suspension from the outset. They argued that Foster does not have the power to suspend Reams in the absence of criminal charges being filed, as was the case the only other time a county attorney was suspended from office decades ago.

Ramsdell said Thursday that they are pleased with the ruling but are disappointed in the 30-day stay McNamara imposed. The lawyer said he expects Foster to take nearly the full 30 days to prolong Reams' absence from the office.

"I think we should all expect that the attorney general will be undeterred by the court's finding that the only person who's done anything unlawful in this matter is the attorney general and not Jim Reams," Ramsdell said. "And he'll make sure this lasts as long as possible."

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said Foster will appeal, but he will also move ahead at the superior court level with the formal removal complaint, regardless of whether Reams returns to office.

"The attorney general's letter further suspending (Reams') prosecutorial powers pending the outcome was done to insure that integrity was maintained in the county attorney's office while his removal petition was heard," Young said. "We are ready to try the case long before his term is over."

Reams has said he will not seek re-election. His term expires in January.

McNamara ruled that Reams' continued suspension, absent criminal charges or evidence of wrongdoing, is tantamount to removing him from office.

He also disagreed with Foster's contention that, as the chief law enforcement office in the state, Foster has the power to strip a county attorney of his prosecutorial powers even if criminal charges are not pending. McNamara said only a judge can remove an elected county attorney.

In court documents made public last month, prosecutors say they wrapped up their investigation and will not bring criminal charges against Reams. But in making their case for permanent removal from office, they also say Reams improperly handled and spent state and federal funds, covered up a staffer's lie and routinely sexually harassed his female employees.

The initial complaint of sexual harassment — received by the attorney general's office in October — described an office in which Reams made vulgar comments, demonstrated inappropriate behavior including touching, and discriminated and retaliated against staffers who became pregnant.

"To allow Attorney Reams to go back into that office would be untenable to the attorney general," Young said, in arguing last week to continue Reams' suspension pending the outcome of Foster's efforts to permanently remove him from office.

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