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Tue March 11, 2014
AG's Office Outlines Pattern Of Harassment and Misused Funds In Complaint Against Reams
The Attorney General's office has released its complaint for the removal of Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams.
Citing interviews with former employees of the Rockingham County Attorney's Office, the 25-page redacted complaint alleges numerous cases of sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, retaliation and misuse of county funds dating back 14 years.
Investigators say almost immediately after taking office in 1999, Reams engaged in discriminatory behavior that included inappropriately touching staff and referring to a female employee as “babe.” The report claims his behavior earned him the office nickname Creepy Uncle Jim.
The AG’s office says it has released just a portion of its total investigation. Reams has alleged all along that the AG’s office stripped him of his prosecutorial power in November without the authority to do so.
On Tuesday, Reams' lawyer, Michael Ramsdell, said the allegations should have been made before Reams was put on leave.
"County Attorney Reams is glad that a public complaint has finally been filed so he can see what the allegations are, he looks forward to pursuing discovery to see the basis of the allegations, and then we’ll respond to defend against the allegations."
Breaking down the Complaint
Reams is accused of mismanaging a forfeiture account funded by fines from liquor enforcement cases and money seized during federal drug prosecutions.
Reams allegedly misled Rockingham County commissioners about where money collected from liquor and gambling fines should be deposited, and he's accused of distributing $240,000 from the account to reimburse himself and others for travel, food, office equipment and other expenses that were never appropriated by county commissioners.
Between 2007-2013, according to the report, Reims authorized more than $20,000 in payments to himself from the forfeiture fund for trips to Hawaii, Quebec, California, Arizona, Florida and other locations. “Documentation regarding Reams’s travel reimbursements included memos from Reams to Reams authorizing payment,” the report says. “Checks drawn from the forfeiture account were made payable to Reams, and signed by Reams.”
Investigators also learned that Reams purchased equipment for the county attorney’s office in his name, then collected and cashed rebate checks, which he apparently pocketed for himself. According to the AG's report, “Reams instructed one of his staff to take the check(s) he signed and cash them at the TD Bank. When she returned with the cash in an envelope, on many occasions she saw him put the money in his pockets.”
The complaint also points to Reams' failure to disclose that one of his employees, a victim/witness advocate named Tara Longo, lied on her application about a UNH college degree.
Investigators say Reams knew of the discrepancy, and even disciplined Longo in October 1999. But he failed to notify prosecutors that they would be required to disclose Longo’s misrepresentation if she was called to testify in court, as required by law and the New Hampshire Rules of Professional Conduct..
The report notes that Longo was a witness, in March 2006, in the trial Harold Baird, who is currently serving a 40-to-80-year sentence for aggravated felonious sexual assault.
“Longo’s credibility was at issue in her testimony,” the report says. “The prosecutor did not disclose the potential exculpatory material, or take steps to have it reviewed [by the judge] for possible disclosure because he had never been told of its existence.”
Longo was placed on administrative leave in November and resigned in January.
Hostile Work Environment
Reams had only been in office a few months when the first sexual harassment complaint landed on the desk of then-Attorney General Phillip McLaughlin, in 1999.
That complaint accused Reams of, among other allegations, referring to a female employee as “babe” and asking another female worker why she buttoned the top of her sweater. “It makes you look like a prude,” Reams allegedly said.
McLaughlin wrapped up his investigation after Deputy County Attorney Thomas Reid told the AG that he had discussed the charges with Reams and that “the allegations had abated since the investigation began.”
In a June 1999 letter to Reams, McLaughlin wrote, “We are satisfied that you now realize that the issues which were raised in the allegations forwarded to this office were serious.”
Reams, however, disagreed. In a September 1999 response to McLaughlin, Reams admitted only to telling a joke “that apparently was unwise.” He said he did not place “any credence” in the allegations, nor did he admit to any wrongdoing.
“Reams not only refused to accept responsibility for his actions,” the AG’s report says, “he has continued to engage in similar behavior ever since.”
Indeed, investigators detailed more than a half-dozen instances in which Reams allegedly sexually harassed female workers, including the employee who filed the complaint with McLaughlin. After her duties were curtailed, the women left the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office for another job at an organization whose board of director included Jim Reams.
"Reams continued to harass her in her new job,” the report says. “Reams informed others on the Board that [REDACTED] was incompetent, was critical of her work, and she was ultimately terminated….”
In one case, Reams and a female employee were attending a domestic violence conference when Reams allegedly put his hand on the women’s thigh and rubbed it with his thumb. In another, Reams is accused of asking a woman wearing “a raspberry colored scoop-necked dress” to come around his desk so he could take a closer look at her necklace.
“She was very uncomfortable,” the report says, “would not get closer than two feet away from Reams and never wore the dress again to work.”
Reams also allegedly complained about his marriage and home life to female workers, expressed disapproval of their personal relationships and subjected women in his office to intense staring that was described by one employee as an “eye crush.”
“Reams conduct toward women in his office earned him the nickname “creepy Uncle Jim,” the AG’s report says.
Investigators say Reams routinely told female employees not to get pregnant, and that those who did were subjected to discrimination.
One pregnant employee who had to take leave before her expected delivery date said she received a letter from Reid that expressed concern that her absence might have a negative impact on the “proper administration of the office.”
Fearing her job was in jeopardy, the woman told investigators she felt compelled to provide “immediate, detailed medical information” that was not required by the county’s human resource policy.
Reams eventually granted the woman’s request for leave, but he would not guarantee she would be allowed to return. “I will reinstate you as an Assistant county attorney on [REDACTED]," he wrote in a letter to the woman, “unless workplace necessity makes it impossible or unreasonable.”
One veteran attorney complained to investigators that, while she was on maternity leave, Reams revoked her authority to negotiate cases. When she returned to work, Reams had moved her out of her office, reassigned all her cases and demoted her to the role of “floater” helping other attorneys.
An assistant county attorney told investigators that Reams approached her and her husband at a Christmas party and told the man not get his wife pregnant.
“Similar comments were made to others,” the AG’s report says. “Reams comments made at least one woman in the office seriously consider whether her career would be at risk if they decided to start a family.”
In 2012, an investigation by the Rockingham County Human Resources Department determined that Reams had created a hostile work environment that included documented instances of retaliation against female employees.
In keeping with his response to McLaughlin’s investigation, Reams rejected the findings and said the allegations from female workers were “isolated instances.”
The AG reached a different conclusion. Reams’ conduct, according to the report, was “deliberate, pervasive and breached the public’s trust inherent in the duties of a county attorney.
“The information gathered during the course of the investigation has caused the Attorney General and the Rockingham County Commissioners to conclude that Reams is unfit for the position of County Attorney.”