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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rockingham County attorney faces possible whistleblower lawsuit

Union Leader Correspondent
BRENTWOOD — Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway is facing a potential whistleblower’s lawsuit for her decision to fire a key witness in a state misconduct investigation just hours after she was sworn into office.

County commissioners acknowledged on Wednesday that they received an offer to settle the matter financially instead of defending themselves from a lawsuit regarding the Nov. 7 firing of former assistant county attorney Jerome Blanchard.

Blanchard tipped off state and federal investigators in late 2013 about a legally questionable forfeiture account and ethical issues allegedly involving former Rockingham County attorney James Reams.
Reams denied any wrongdoing.

He left his elected post last June after eight terms in office.
Conway was drawn into the investigation when Blanchard told investigators that her husband, Eric Lamb, had been improperly “cleared” from a list of former and current police officers with potential credibility issues.

Conway denied in an interview Wednesday that her decision to terminate Blanchard was payback.
“The termination of Attorney Blanchard was in no way retaliatory,” Conway said. “It was done in the best interest of the county. I stand by my decision.”

Conway has denied having any knowledge about Blanchard being the person who told investigators about her husband’s incorrect designation on the state-mandated list.
Blanchard’s lawyer, Sean O’Connell, offered a rough outline of what a lawsuit against Rockingham County — and Conway individually — would look like if it went to trial.

“Ms. Conway was very close — both professionally and personally — with Mr. Reams,” O’Connell wrote in a March 6 letter to commissioners. “It is more than fair to characterize Mr. Reams as a mentor to Ms. Conway and a champion of hers within the County Attorney’s office.”

The letter, obtained by the New Hampshire Union Leader, said the lawsuit would be brought under the state’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act if the case was not settled out of court.
Conway acknowledged in a letter written to commissioners on Monday that Blanchard is seeking legal action against her personally for alleged wrongful termination.

She asked commissioners to defend her in court, suggesting that her actions were conducted in her official capacity and protected under state law.
Conway told commissioners that she would not be able to meet with them on Wednesday because she was in trial.

Conway, a Republican from Salem, campaigned on restoring credibility to a county attorney’s office racked by a legal battle that Reams waged against the state attorney general’s office.
The lawsuit returned Reams to office, but brought to light allegations of sexual harassment, ethical violations and mismanagement of a forfeiture account.

Rockingham County Commission Chairman Tom Tombarello said that Conway has never fully explained why she fired Blanchard.
“We asked her a couple of times,” Tombarello said. “She said she couldn’t because it was a potential legal matter. She told us it was her decision.”

Conway said those conversations involved personnel matters that came up during public meetings, and she was unsure whether she could discuss such matters with commissioners.
Tombarello said he hoped that Conway’s reasons for terminating Blanchard were legitimate. Commissioners will have to decide whether to provide Conway legal representation given that she would be sued individually, and not in her official capacity.

“If he goes after her personally, Tombarello said. “I am not sure if we are interested or not interested in providing her legal assistance.”
Commission Vice Chairman Kevin Coyle, a harsh critic of Conway’s decision, said he would not support any request for the county to protect Conway in court.

“I believe her firing of Jerome was retaliation,” Coyle said. “This is something she did and she is going to have to suffer the consequences.”


Anonymous said...

Read this........

Anonymous said...

Judge Sharon DeVries reprimanded.

Anonymous said...

Commissioners want to hear from county attorney before they opt to defend whistleblower lawsuit
Union Leader Correspondent
Rockingham County attorney faces possible whistleblower lawsuit

BRENTWOOD — Rockingham County commissioners said they will not decide whether to defend County Attorney Patricia Conway in a possible whistleblower lawsuit until she explains her reasoning for firing a co-worker hours after she was sworn into office.

Their decision came after a former prosecutor and key witness in the investigation into former county attorney James Reams notified officials he may file a whistleblower’s lawsuit against Rockingham County and Conway personally.

"I would like to know what was so drastic that he had to go," Commissioner Chairman Tom Tombarello said about the Nov. 7 termination of Jerome Blanchard, a former assistant county attorney.

Blanchard was a key witness for state and federal investigators, who alleged financial and ethical issues in Reams’ office. The alleged impropriates included Conway’s husband being "cleared" from a state-mandated list of current and former police officers with potential credibility issues.

Reams denied any wrongdoing and left office in June. Conway defended her decision on Wednesday to terminate Blanchard saying it was in no way retaliation.

Blanchard’s lawyer Sean O’Connell notified commissioners by letter on March 6 that his client would be willing to either reach a financial settlement, or file a lawsuit under the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act.

The question left for commissioners – and possibly local taxpayers – will be whether the county will pay for a lawyer to defend Conway for the alleged wrongful termination.

Conway has asked commissioners to defend her in court. She cited a state law that suggested her actions were done in her official capacity as county attorney.

"Let’s say she has a legitimate reason. Then I could see us potentially defending her," said Commissioner Vice Chairman Kevin Coyle. "Right now, it appears to be reckless and wanton behavior. But we shouldn’t make that decision without first listening to her. We are doing our due diligence."

Conway has been invited to meet with commissioners during a non-public meeting scheduled for next week.

If the matter goes to trial, O’Connell suggested to commissioners that James Boffetti, a state prosecutor who served as interim county attorney, would testify that Blanchard, "was – by far – the most capable and helpful ACA in the office based on his own personal experience, interaction and observation."

"Mr. Boffetti would further testify that he relied on Mr. Blanchard as his primary back up and would leave my client in charge of the office when necessary," O’Connell said in the letter.

O’Connell said that his client was not only widely respected in the County Attorney’s Office by his peers, but also within the local defense bar. Blanchard, a 14-year veteran with the office, was known for prosecuting high-profile cases, often coming away with victories in legally complex cases. He first became involved in the attorney general’s investigation when his girlfriend, Jacqueline Docko, reported to the attorney general’s office that Reams sexually harassed her at work.

"My client was devastated at losing a career he valued greatly," O’Connell said.

Blanchard has since taken a job working as a local defense lawyer.

Anonymous said...

By Jason Grosky

When Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway vindictively fired Jerome Blanchard within hours of taking office, we in legal circles winced.

Not only had Rockingham County lost one of its top prosecutors, we knew her reckless decision would result in a costly lawsuit for taxpayers.

Blanchard tried to keep the Rockingham County Attorney’s office honest and credible by reporting sexual harassment by Conway’s predecessor as well as the mysterious removal of Conway’s husband’s name from the county’s Laurie List— a list of police officers with serious credibility issues.

Blanchard was a whistleblower on all that was wrong in an office that should be above reproach. Conway chose to punish him for it.

But Blanchard is not the only one punished by Conway’s retaliatory actions. She is asking taxpayers to pay for her mistakes — pay her legal bills and any resulting settlements or judgments should Blanchard file suit under the state’s Whistleblower act. Conway’s bill to the taxpayers will undoubtedly reach six figures.

The County Commissioners demanded answers from a reluctant and reticent Conway as to why she fired Blanchard, and now they have a decision to make — open up the county’s wallet to cover for Conway or let her stand on her own. If the commissioners refuse, Conway can ask the county’s delegation of state representatives to bail her out of this situation.

I urge county commissioners and the legislative delegation to do what Conway failed to do as an elected official, and that is to protect us taxpayers. Let Conway be personally responsible for her own decision — both financially and professionally.

As a lawyer, Conway should have known the expensive implications of firing a whistleblower. She put her own personal political agenda first, without a thought to the people who elected her or pay her salary.

Conway needs to be held accountable. She needs to know she cannot get away with the same type of unscrupulous behavior that has destroyed the County Attorney’s Office she helped lead for years.

Voters gave Conway the opportunity to back up her campaign promise to restore credibility to the beleaguered office. The retaliation firing of Blanchard only reinforced that nothing but the nameplate has changed at our County Attorney’s Office.

Jason B. Grosky is a previous candidate for the Rockingham County Attorney position. He lives in Atkinson.

Anonymous said...

BRENTWOOD — Rockingham County commissioners voted Wednesday to not pay County Attorney Patricia Conway's legal costs if a former prosecutor files a lawsuit for unlawful termination.

The three-member commission voted unanimously not to support Conway after she decided to fire longtime Assistant County Attorney Jerome Blanchard shortly after taking office in November, Chairman Thomas Tombarello said.

"The county will not pay for Conway's legal fees," Tombarello said. "The Board of Commissioners will not comment further."

Blanchard, who worked in the office for 15 years, contends he was fired without good cause because Conway had a vendetta against him.
Commissioners and Conway did not discuss the issue at the meeting Wednesday.

"I am very disappointed with the board's decision.
I will appeal their decision to the delegation," Conway said in an email Wednesday evening. "I am confident that if the delegation looks at the facts fairly and impartially, they will vote to indemnify me."

Blanchard was a respected prosecutor who was dismissed because he reported that former County Attorney James Reams sexually harassed female employees and mismanaged his office, according to Sean O'Connell, Blanchard's attorney.

Reams stepped down from the post in June, saying he was retiring.

Blanchard also told the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office that Conway's husband, former Salem police Sgt. Eric Lamb, was removed from the state's Laurie List.

The list includes the names of officers with credibility concerns. Lamb's name was later restored.

Instead of filing a lawsuit, O'Connell said Blanchard is willing to accept a $250,000 settlement.