Executive Council Rejects AG's Plan To Have Former Manchester Chief Oversee County Atty's Office

Sep 18, 2019

Deputy N.H. Attorney General Jane Young and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald speak at the Executive Council meeting Wednesday.
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald failed to get the support today to send former Manchester police chief David Mara to the Hillsborough County Attorney's office. 

MacDonald wanted Mara to oversee all criminal cases at the office, which MacDonald said lacked leadership under the elected County Attorney, Michael Conlon. The Executive Council voted down MacDonald's nomination, accusing him of trying to replace an elected official.

MacDonald said his takeover of the County Attorney's office was to fulfill what he called his number one job: "...to serve the people of Hillsborough County. Unfortunately today we were denied the resources I requested to do that," MacDonald said.

MacDonald said he does not have plans yet to nominate another attorney for the job.

Note: NHPR's Sarah Gibson spoke about this with All Things Considered Host Peter Biello. Listen below. The transcript of that interview is posted below the audio.

 Note: The following is a machine-generated transcript and may contain errors

Peter Biello:
Leadership of the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office is in flux today after the Executive Council voted down the nomination of former Manchester police chief David Mara to take the reins. The attorney general's office had planned that role for Mara after it took oversight of criminal cases away from the elected county attorney, Michael Conlon, last week, citing allegations of poor leadership in his office. Sarah Gibson has been following the story and is with me now. Hey, Sarah. Hi. So you were at today's Executive Council meeting in Peterborough. What was the state's argument for placing David Mara, currently the state's drug czar, in charge of the county attorney's office?

Sarah Gibson:
Well, the Attorney General's office, as you said, has taken over all the criminal cases in the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office since last week. And it's a big job. Right now, they have three people who really have full caseloads already at the Attorney General's office who are trying to now oversee the Hillsborough County Attorney's office. And Attorney General Gordon McDonald basically said, you know, we're putting in as much work as we can, but we need someone whose sole purpose it is to take the reins over criminal cases in the Hillsborough County Attorney's office, implement some of the policies and procedures we've been recommending. And that person needs to be. David Mara, and here he is making that case.

Gordon MacDonald (Tape from hearing):
"I am before this council asking for the resource to do that. That's the question before the council. And if you vote no, I am telling you that will compromise our ability to protect the people of our state."

Peter Biello:
But Gordon Macdonald did not get what he wanted. David Morrow was not confirmed. What happened?

Sarah Gibson:
Well, some members of the Executive Council took issue with the way that the A.G. was going about this. They basically said by stripping county attorney Michael Conlon of so many of his responsibilities, you're essentially taking away the power of an elected official. And that's a big deal. Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Democrat, proposed that The A.G.'s office essentially get a mediator to iron out some kind of power sharing agreement between them and county attorney Michael Conlon. Here he is basically asking Attorney General Gordon McDonald whether he would consider that.

Andru Volinsky (Tape from hearing):
"Are you saying you won't agree to a mediated process in order to protect the people of this state? Could you will get my vote if you agree to do that?"

Gordon MacDonald (Tape from hearing):
"We have tried to engage this county attorney constructively and collaboratively."

Andru Volinsky (Tape from hearing):
"You won't be surprised if I've heard different things from the county attorney, which suggests to me that you two are talking past each other."

Sarah Gibson:
So it was a tense exchange, to say the least. And in the end. Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said, look, we've tried enough and we need to move forward and we need to move forward with a different leader. That did not work out for him. The vote was split. So two people vote, voted for the nomination, two people against and one person abstained.

Peter Biello:
So Mara was not approved and the Executive Council had another position to vote on. This is a new position at the Attorney General's office. What would this person do?

Sarah Gibson:
So this is an Assistant Attorney General whose job it would be largely to train attorneys in New Hampshire. So county attorneys, state attorneys and cases like these we're seeing in Hillsborough County really do highlight the need for elected officials like county attorneys to get robust training, particularly if they don't have prosecutorial experience. So the nomination was for David Rotman. He's he was formerly with the Merrimack County Attorney's Office, and that nomination was approved easily. He'll be coming in, I believe, by the end of the month. And he'll be spending a lot of time at the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office.

Peter Biello:
So what's next for the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office? First of all, who's in charge right now?

Sarah Gibson:
Well, the Attorney General's office is in charge of all the criminal cases. But as we saw today, there is not a kind of person who is going to lead the charge. It's a team of people who, again, have a lot of other stuff on their plate. And I asked Attorney General Gordon MacDonald if he had plans to nominate someone else who maybe would be the new Mara. And he did not have a clear answer for me. So we're not totally sure what their next steps are. However, we do know that they're going to have a significant presence in Hillsborough County attorney's office for months to come.