AG's Office Defends Takeover of Hillsborough County Attorney's Office

Sep 12, 2019

 

Deputy Attorney General Jane Young (right) and Assistant Attorney General Erin Fitzgerald (left).
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

The New Hampshire Department of Justice is defending its decision last week to take over criminal cases at the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office, citing what it calls longstanding "systemic problems” with leadership.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Jane Young said that her office began reviewing the county attorney's office over a year ago, when the office was under the direction of Dennis Hogan. They found issues with understaffing, poor leadership, and lack of organizational structure, office policies, and training, she said.

Young says when newly elected county attorney, Democrat Michael Conlon, took office in January, she offered recommendations for how to improve the office. 

“I can personally tell you that we have been in dialogue with County Attorney Conlon at least on a weekly basis,” she said. “We have continued to hear concerns and complaints from law enforcement. We have tried to work through those with skill and poise, and here we are today.”

Young said she received an unprecedented number of calls from police chiefs who were frustrated with the lack of communication from Conlon’s office.

“We gave him time and ability to straighten this situation out. He simply failed to do so.”

A team from the Attorney General’s office began working at the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office this week, implementing policies they recommended earlier this year, which Young says Conlon refused to do, including improving communication with police and increasing oversight over cases.

On Monday Conlon told NHPR he is still in charge. Young says that he still has some duties, but is no longer overseeing criminal cases.

“Michael Conlon is still the County Attorney. He can make any civil decision he wants - hiring, firing. We run the criminal aspect of that office. And it's a long row to hoe.”

Conlon says he was given reprimands, not resources, from the Attorney General’s office, and points to an increased office budget and additional hires as evidence of progress. 

Some have criticized the Attorney General’s office for taking over now, after years of alleged disfunction under former County Attorney Dennis Hogan, a Republican. 

Young adamantly denied that the decision to step in now was politically motivated.

“We need to be able to have conversations with the first assistant [attorney] and not keep being asked ‘Is this political? Why are you here? What are you doing?’ she said. “We are not politicians, and we do not do things for political reasons. We do this job for one reason: to protect the people for the state of New Hampshire.” 

Young did not provide a timeline for her team’s involvement with the County Attorney’s office. Former Manchester police chief David Mara is expected to oversee the office pending approval from the Executive Council later this month. 

Attorney David Rotman, who ran the sexual assault unit at the Merrimack County Attorney’s office for decades, is also expected to be involved by the end of the month. Rotman will assume the position of training attorney, a new position at the Attorney General’s office tasked with training and supporting regional, county, and state attorneys throughout New Hampshire.