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New Hampshire Views: Time growing short in Reams case

State and federal officials should pick up the pace in the case of suspended Rockingham County Attorney James Reams.

Reams was suspended by New Hampshire Attorney General Joe Foster on Nov. 6.

It was all very mysterious at the time, and for the most part, still is.

No charges have been brought against Reams, and the AG’s office hasn’t offered any specifics about the suspension. Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards said in a court hearing shortly before Christmas that part of the investigation concerns a criminal matter and some of it is operational in nature.

“We’re proceeding as quickly as possible,” Edwards told a judge during a hearing last month.

We don’t doubt that, or that those investigating Reams have acted in good faith. We can understand why, when a complaint is made against the county’s top law-enforcement officer, it makes sense to remove that person from office on a temporary basis so as not to impede or chill the investigation. It’s a lot easier, after all, to talk about the boss when he’s out of the office.

Easier still if you think he’s not coming back.

But there are some things about this matter that are worrisome.

The first is that taxpayers have still been paying Reams’s $80,000-per-year salary since he was suspended almost two months ago. We’ll make a blanket public-policy statement here and say that, in general, it’s preferable not to pay someone for not working.

That, however, is a secondary concern. Of greater import is the fact that no charges have been filed to date, which raises questions about whether the AG’s office is circumventing Reams’s basic right to face his accuser and confront the charges against him.

Taking away someone’s livelihood without giving them a chance to answer specific charges runs counter to the way our system is supposed to work.

We understand the argument made by prosecutors, who contend that the reason no charges have been brought is because criminal investigations – especially complicated ones – take a long time to play out. That’s a valid point.

We don’t want to see anyone railroaded, nor do we want the AG’s office to act in haste for its own sake. We appreciate their attempt to be as thorough as possible. That should not, however, be used to justify an open-ended inquiry.

Time is growing short. Reams, an eight-term Republican, has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong and has filed suit to force the AG’s office to produce evidence against him. He said he’s been given only limited information about the probe. The good news is, that’s probably how most suspects would be treated in a similar instance. We also take comfort in the fact that the case is being overseen by a superior court judge. That, at least, lessens the appearance that Reams is being targeted for political reasons, as he claims.

Still, as a practical matter and perhaps without even intending to do so, the attorney general’s office has laid out a blueprint for how to overturn the will of the electorate in those instances where someone may have differences with a county prosecutor. Granted, a case like this probably only comes along once in a blue moon, but the fact that an un-elected attorney general can leave a duly elected county attorney dangling in the wind for two months without bringing formal charges ought to give pause to anyone who has ever checked off a name on a ballot.

The suspension of Reams would be a lot more understandable were there charges attached to it. Public confidence in our justice system would seem to dictate that either charges be filed soon, or Reams be reinstated.

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