On Tuesday, thousands of New Hampshire voters will fill in a bubble way down the ballot, under “County Attorney.” It's likely few will know who they are voting for. Below, are interviews with all four candidates for the two contested county attorney seats in N.H.
Editor's note: The following interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.
How long have you been in office?
The terms are two years, it’s my second non-consecutive term, so now I’ve done four years.
How do you think you differ from your opponent, Garth Corriveau?
I think the big thing is I have four years of experience. Before that, I brought in experience that is very useful, too. I do take some cases but it’s very much a managing position. I came to the office already having been on the [Nashua] School Board, and managing the changes that we had there.
We had a school board that was always making headlines, and I went there and worked on the policy committee and really restructured the way the school board was working and we got it out of the papers.
Because I worked for 12 years in an insurance company I did their management training program, and got a little bit of management experience while I was at the insurance company and applied it at the school board, and it worked.
Did you have a background in criminal law before you got here?
As soon as I became an attorney in 2002 I started taking criminal cases as a defense attorney, but I did not already have any experience here in the office. I’ve come in with clean eyes, asking a lot of questions, and seeing why we do things and not just doing things because they were done in the past.
What do you consider your number one priority in your work right now?
The most important thing for county attorney is to have the disposition to just do what needs to be done. In other words, d
What’s the most important thing to accomplish?
It’s having good judgment. And beyond that, it’s picking people that I feel have good judgment, and that means not doing it based on politics. Prosecutors know they have a very important role to play in helping people. Victims get helped by what we do, and defendants get helped by what we do, because sometimes they have to be separated from society for a little bit so they stop causing the problems. And when they get separated, they’re able to rehabilitate. That happens. It doesn’t happen as much as you’d like it to, but it does happen. So we play a very important role once someone has committed a crime, and sometimes it means harsh punishment, and sometimes it means just setting something over their heads so they know not to do it again.
Also, we don’t do every single case exactly the same, but within that, everybody’s getting treated equally as a person.
Is it true that you endorsed Donald Trump?
I endorsed everyone on the Republican ticket whether it’s Trump, Ayotte, Lawrence, Sununu, everyone gets my endorsement if they’re a Republican.
Your opponent has argued that in endorsing Donald Trump, you are failing to repudiate someone who brags about sexual assault. It’s part of your job to prosecute people who are charged with sexual assault. Do you think that that creates a problem for your public image, or for your ability to do your job?
My opponent wants me to talk about Donald Trump because my opponent doesn’t want to talk about the difference between me and him. I have a lot of experience, he has none. I’m not going to try to defend somebody up ticket, when I should be talking about the difference between me and my opponent.
Do you worry about the cost of incarceration and its impact on residents of Hillsborough County?
No, I don’t calculate how much it’s costing to send somebody [to jail or prison], that’s for someone else to do. In a greater sense, you don’t’ want to just be sending people away, but for each individual case, we don’t’ say “oh, this is going to cost us this much money.”
When you think about who you are responsible for, and to, what do you think about?
I think about all the people I’ve met over my lifetime living in Nashua growing up here. But the basic thing I think they all agree on, is: ‘we elected you to do a job, don’t try to make a splash, don’t be fancy, go there, do the job, and we’ll be happy with that.’
Tell me about your drug court.
We started it four years ago, that was prior to getting the federal funds for it, and it’s been three years since the funding has come through. It’s graduated nine people by now, and it does great things for the people it graduates.
How successful do you think the drug court has been?
I think it’s been very successful for the people it helped. It’s going to take time to be called a success in general, that the money we spent on it has been worth it. The hope is it will help the actual crime rate.
And now, with state funding, we’ll have drug court in Manchester starting November 15, which is a great thing.
Why are you running for county attorney?
My term was up as an alderman, and I planned on enjoying our two year old and soon to be ten-month old. I was approached about this race from some people in the public safety community in the city. The one thing I most missed working on were public safety issues, and ultimately, I made the decision to give it a shot.
I think it’s important that we have an advocate that will stand up for strengthening public safety especially at a time like this, with the drug epidemic impacting our quality of life.
How do you think your approach to public safety and the drug epidemic differs from your opponent, Dennis Hogan’s?
I’m very proud to have the endorsements of the Manchester and Nashua public safety communities, the first responders, professional firefighters and the police patrolmen of both cities. I think one of the reasons I received those endorsements is because of my role as a Manchester alderman.
Over the past few years we’ve added close to 30 new police officers in Manchester, mostly in response to the drug epidemic. As I talked with law enforcement throughout the county, the issues I kept hearing about over and over again was first, Manchester’s need for a drug court, the second, is serial drug dealers of Fentanyl, opioids, heroin. They are being continually re-released into the communities. The police arrest them , and then a couple weeks will go by and those dealers are right back on the street, and that obviously has a really detrimental effect on the public safety in all our communities, and it hurts morale for law enforcement.
I believe I can be a much more vocal, passionate and aggressive prosecutor.
There’s a conflict between the belief that drug addiction is a medical problem, and the fact that most dealers are also addicts. How do you respond to that conflict?
That delves right into the drug court issue. Nashua has a drug court, it’s new, it’s small, it’s showing some success but it needs to be greatly expanded. Here in Manchester the first time I ever thought about running for county attorney was when I started getting phone calls from little league coaches saying “Garth, we found needles on our kids’ ball fields what do I do.?” On a completely bipartisan united basis, a group of elected officials here in Manchester went to county government and said “please help us fund a drug court, our community is hurting greatly.” The county voted that down and I asked a number of lawmakers what happened, and what I was repeatedly told was that County Attorney Hogan didn’t make a compelling case that a drug court was needed for Manchester.
Now there’s one in the pipeline, but it’s been caught up in bureaucracy. My top priority is to get that drug court up and running, because it should have been open a year and a half ago.
What responsibility do you think a County Attorney has to address the problem of over incarceration and the cost of incarceration?
I think the foremost responsibility of the County Attorney is to exercise his or her good judgment.
Incarceration is a very complicated issue, it plays into local, county, and state government resources. And it’s no secret there have been some pretty significant incidents that have occurred at the Valley Street Jail. My plan would be to immediately work with the county commissioners and state representatives to begin addressing those issues.
I know Hillsborough County, particularly Manchester and Nashua, are more diverse communities than our state at large. I also know NHPR had a series on people of color being incarcerated at a higher rate than white people. I guess my response to that is, having been a resident and alderman in Manchester for a long time – I want people of all colors and ethnicities to feel as though they have equal access to the justice system. I think some of that is continually looking at numbers of who is being prosecuted, who is being incarcerated, to make sure that we’re doing our best. If the county attorney, who’s the chief law enforcement officer of the 400,000 people, can be an advocate for everyone, law enforcement, and the people they serve, I think that’s what people really need right now.
How much experience do you have with criminal law?
I’ve been an attorney practicing law now for 11 years. Criminal defense has certainly been part of my practice. In terms of prosecuting cases, I plan on making it a teamwork approach; I want our best prosecutors tackling our most significant cases. Obviously, prosecution is part of the job, but being an advocate for victims of crime, and law enforcement, is just as important a part.
What else is really important to you?
I’ll tell you one thing that kind of took me aback. I was already running for office when Donald Trump’s comments on video tape from the Access Hollywood bus were released. As an attorney, I can say definitively those comments he made on tape were boasting about committing sexual assault. Prosecuting sexual assault is a major responsibility of the County Attorney’s office. I publicly asked Mr. Hogan to repudiate his endorsement of Donald Trump. Instead, we saw on Facebook he was showing off his VIP badge to a Trump rally. In my opinion, the County Attorney needs to be a vocal, passionate advocate for victims of sexual assault, and should never ever stand with anyone boasting of committing sexual assault. I think that speaks to my opponent’s character and judgment. In my opinion, there’s no more important officer who should be standing with victims of sexual assault than the top prosecutor of Hillsborough County.
What do you think voters should know about you when they get to the polls?
I’ve been in this line of work almost twenty years. I started off as a district court prosecutor, and then eventually I came up here to the county attorney’s office in 1999. I’ve been here ever since. I’ve supervised other felony level prosecutors for 13 years now, as a lead attorney. I prosecuted some of the most serious violent offenses here in Rockingham County successfully before juries, and that prepared me well for the position.
And then of course I’ve been the County Attorney for two years, I think I’ve managed the office successfully. We’ve prosecuted folks who have committed crimes like human trafficking, sexual assault, sale of a controlled drug, successfully.
We’ve also instituted a pretty strong drug court program here, we’re working on instituting a Veterans’ track program here for our veterans who suffer from PTSD and traumatic brain injury, so we can get them the services they need, and so they hopefully don’t recidivate.
Some say voters should consider you part of a legacy of problematic leadership here at the Rockingham County Attorney’s office. What do you think?
I think it’s baloney. I think it’s not true. I think the voters saw through that the first time around in 2014 and understood that the real important issue in the campaign was who was the best qualified to do this, and I think the voters spoke, and found that I was the most dedicated to the position, and I’m hopeful that they’ll feel the same way this time around.
A lot of people in the justice system – including Justice Tina Nadeau and Judge Ed Kelly -- are talking about different kinds of reform in the system. How important is changing the system, to you?
I do think we’re at a pivotal moment in history when it comes to the criminal justice system. And I say that because my experience has really taught me that incarceration is not always the answer. I do think there’s plenty of situations where it is appropriate, particularly violent offenses, rapes, child pornography cases, things like that.
The criminal justice system – prosecutors, law enforcement, and the court -- our goal is to keep the community safe and reduce recidivism. What I have found just from my own personal experience in different kinds of cases is when you put someone in jail or prison with the hope that that will deter them from committing a future crime, it has not achieved that goal. We see frequent fliers going through those doors over and over again.
And so I think we need to look toward alternative sentencing.
When you go about your work, who are you responsible to, and what are you thinking about?
We have a responsibility not only to victims, but also to defendants, to treat them fairly and justly. We have a responsibility to [victims and] family members who are looking for closure, or justice. We have a responsibility to folks out there who may be an upcoming victim of a theft or sexual assault if we don’t handle a case appropriately now.
We have to think about how what we’re doing affects everybody in our county.
Do you try many cases yourself these days?
No, not nearly as many as I used to. I do have a caseload, but it’s much lighter than it used to be. I do really enjoy doing it, and I think it keeps me in touch with what my assistants are going through on a daily basis.
Do you feel prepared for Felonies First?
I do feel prepared in that I know that it’s coming, and I’ve talked to my staff here, and
I’ve also talked to the board of commissioners and let them know that for the upcoming budget we’re going to need more staff.
I’m excited about it because the County Attorney will be involved in the felony cases right away, so if we need additional investigation on a case, we can dig in with the police a day after it happened, a week after it happened, before the evidence is destroyed, or the witness leaves town.
If, under Felonies First, you receive felony cases that you think should be misdemeanors, will you be prepared to knock them down to the circuit court?
We won’t have a problem asking the departments to resolve something as a misdemeanor if we don’t think it’s appropriate as a felony. And I think 9 times out of 10 it will be a mutual agreement. I think in the past if there was probable cause to charge someone with a felony we got the case and if we had to we would reduce it. I think now we’ll be able to deal with that at the front end rather than at the back end.
Why do you think voter should choose you over Pat Conway?
First of all, let me say that I’ve been an attorney with state agencies all of my adult life. I have the most government experience of the candidates, and I have the most education of the candidates.
I used to be a prosecutor for the board of nursing, and yanked peoples’ licenses, for the most part because of drug diversion. [Addiction] is, for the most part driving the increase in criminal activity right now.
On other issues, there seems to be an ethical cloud hanging over the office of county attorney, since the removal of the previous county attorney by the Attorney General’s office, three years ago. There’s still some fallout lingering because of that, including the failure to properly explain the disappearance of [Pat Conway’s] spouse’s name from the Laurie List of law enforcement personnel. The other thing that disturbed voters, I believe, was the firing of the whistleblower attorney on the first day [Pat Conway] took office, and then last summer, the chief deputy that she appointed was censured by the Superior Court in Rockingham county for what essentially is incompetence and contempt of court for failing to return evidence that was ordered to be returned to a defendant.
Another thing that has bothered people is that she accepted a contribution from the household of her disgraced predecessor, and I think that calls her judgment into question.
So for all these reasons, my life experience, my skills, and my temperament, I decided to run in this race.
What do you think the responsibilities are of a county attorney?
Well, one of them is to essentially run the office. In addition to my law degree, I have a Master’s degree in Public Administration. I taught Public Administration at night for many years at the UNH [department] of political science. I used to focus on public budgeting, and I taught courses on public sector ethics, which I think is sorely lacking in the county office at this time.
Tell me more about your beliefs about criminal justice – some say this is a pivotal moment in our country’s history when it comes to the justice system.
Right now in New Hampshire we have more people dying of overdoses than in car accidents. Statistics show that there are 28,000 people in NH who suffer from addiction, and 10 percent of those people are ages 18 to 25. Seventy-five percent of them are employed. That’s a real concern for us taxpayers, and for public safety and public health, because those people are experiencing crumbling marriages, bankruptcies, losing their jobs, and they are costing tax payers a fortune, because now you have to involve the public police, public prosecutors, public defenders, public courts, public jails – it’s costing us hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with this issue.
And a lot of parties are culpable. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find out the pharmaceutical industry is in the chair that the tobacco industry sat in a generation ago.
Again, we’re talking about spending a lot of taxpayer money to deal with this issue. And that’s one of the issues that’s driving changes in this county, this state, this country.
And as county attorney, how would you deal with that?
The county attorney is a visible position. He or she can make public statements calling this matter to the public’s attention on a regular basis.
There’s the criminal side of it, and there’s the treatment side of it. And when it comes to treatment, the state has introduced a drug court system, which is a diversionary approach, where people who are low level drug offenders*, instead of going through the criminal justice program, will go through a treatment program that lasts at least 18 months.
The other element, those people who are hard core addicts, the people who don’t want to be treated, the traffickers, the sellers, I have one message for them. If I become county attorney, your life is going to be more miserable than it is today. And for those of you who are abusing, and don’t recognize your demons and have no intention of taming them, then you are responsible for funding the narco-trafficking networks in this country and the world.
What would be your #1 priority as county attorney?
My number one priority is keeping the streets and homes of Rockingham County safe, and taking the bad people out of circulation. Eighty percent of the crimes committed in the state are fueled by drugs and alcohol. Drug courts will play an important role in addressing this dilemma. It’s cheaper for someone to go through this program and be rehabilitated, than to take this person out of his or her place of employment, out of his or her home, and put that person through the entire criminal justice system. It’s more cost effective to divert someone through the drug court system, for those who recognize they have an issue and want to do something about it.
What else should voters know about you?
I was born and raised in NH, I’m the only veteran that’s running for this office, I have a long career in state government, I’ve monitored legislation for my agency, I’d be a good advocate for Rockingham County, I’d work well with state representatives. And also I’d like to make the Rockingham County offices look more like Rockingham County, in the sense that if I were elected, I believe I would be the first person in that position who speaks another language. In fact I speak two other languages: I would bring diversity to the office of Rockingham County Attorney.
(Mr. Patenaude speaks French and Spanish.)