Rockingham County will pay an $80,000 settlement to a whistleblower in the Attorney General's investigation of former prosecutor Jim Reams. The settlement with Jerome Blanchard comes after Blanchard filed a claim against the county for wrongful termination. It includes $54,000 in lost pay and damages, and $26,000 in attorneys fees.
After Blanchard blew the whistle on his old boss, Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams in 2013, the Attorney General's office investigated Reams for a variety of unethical actions. One such action allegedly benefited the husband of another Rockingham County prosecutor, Patricia Conway.
When Reams didn't run for re-election, voters elected Conway. On her first day in office, she fired Jerome Blanchard.
Blanchard has called his firing retribution. He says the county commissioners were fair, and adds "you don't get paid $80,000 if there was no wrongdoing."
Conway has said her actions are a private human resources matter and were not retribution.
County commissioners have refused to hire lawyers to defend Conway. However, Commissioner Kevin Coyle says the county's insurer, Primex of Concord, recommended settling the case out of court. "They took the position right from the beginning that it was not a defensible firing," says Coyle.
The settlement was covered by the insurance company, but will most likely result in increased rates for the county next year.
"To me it looked like a vendetta," Coyle said. "If she had come to any of the commissioners before she abruptly fired Jerome, we would have immediately told her that itw as a terrible idea and here's why."
Coyle says he "hopes she learned a lesson," and adds, "hopefully voters are paying attention."
Now, according to the settlement, the issue has been put to bed.