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Foster says he’ll avoid conflicts of interest if confirmed as N.H. attorney general

  • Attorney General-designate, Joe Foster, hears questions from the Executive Council in his confirmation hearings a the State House; Wednesday, April 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Attorney General-designate, Joe Foster, hears questions from the Executive Council in his confirmation hearings a the State House; Wednesday, April 10, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Executive Councilman, Christopher Sununu (right) listens as Executive Councilman, Chris Pappas (left) asks Attorney General-designate Joe Foster (not pictured) a question during Foster's confirmation hearing; Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Foster's wife, Marissa Baltus (left center), and daughter, Gabriella Foster (right center) listen to the hearing.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Executive Councilman, Christopher Sununu (right) listens as Executive Councilman, Chris Pappas (left) asks Attorney General-designate Joe Foster (not pictured) a question during Foster's confirmation hearing; Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Foster's wife, Marissa Baltus (left center), and daughter, Gabriella Foster (right center) listen to the hearing.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Attorney General-designate, Joe Foster, hears questions from the Executive Council in his confirmation hearings a the State House; Wednesday, April 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Executive Councilman, Christopher Sununu (right) listens as Executive Councilman, Chris Pappas (left) asks Attorney General-designate Joe Foster (not pictured) a question during Foster's confirmation hearing; Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Foster's wife, Marissa Baltus (left center), and daughter, Gabriella Foster (right center) listen to the hearing.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

Joe Foster pledged yesterday, if confirmed as New Hampshire’s next attorney general, to take steps to avoid any conflicts of interest involving clients of the large law firm where he’s worked for nearly 29 years.

“Your role as a lawyer is to represent your client. . . . Your role as the attorney general is to represent the people of New Hampshire, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Foster told the Executive Council during a hearing on his nomination by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan to head the state Department of Justice. “I am going to look out for their interests, not former clients’ interests.”

Foster, 53, is a Nashua Democrat, a bankruptcy lawyer and a former state representative and senator. He’s chairman of the bankruptcy group at McLane, Graf, Raulerson and Middleton, which describes itself as the state’s largest full-service law firm and has a lobbying arm, McLane GPS.

If confirmed by the five-member council, Foster would replace Mike Delaney, who has been attorney general since 2009 and announced last month he plans to return to private practice.

After taking office, Foster said, he’ll recuse himself from any cases that he worked on “personally and substantially,” and “for an appropriate period of time” will recuse himself from all cases involving lawyers from the McLane firm.

The issue of real or apparent conflicts of interest was one of the few points of friction during yesterday’s hearing, which lasted more than two hours.

Sixteen people – Democrats and Republicans, lawmakers and lawyers – testified in support of Foster, a former state representative and three-term senator who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and served as majority leader for two years.

“Joe is fair. He’s honest. He’s somebody we always trusted, somebody we always counted on to do the right thing and someone who always found the right answer,” said Bob Clegg, a Republican and former Senate majority leader himself. “As the attorney general, I think he’ll do great.”

One person testified against Foster – Chris Dornin of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, who said several pieces of legislation sponsored by Foster were too draconian in terms of punishing sex offenders. Three other people spoke yesterday about more general issues involving state law and the attorney general’s office.

Catherine Corkery, New Hampshire chapter director of the Sierra Club, said the group supports Foster’s nomination but has concerns about the McLane firm’s work for Public Service of New Hampshire, especially given the utility’s fossil-fuel-burning power plants and participation in the Northern Pass project.

“There cannot be any hint of bias or favoritism in that matter,” she said.

But Corkery said Foster’s remarks yesterday “helped reassure me” on that front. And Councilor Ray Burton, a Bath Republican, said Foster assured him he was wasn’t involved in any Northern Pass work at the firm.

Councilor Chris Sununu, a Newfields Republican, said “there’s some definite concern out there” about Foster’s lack of experience as a criminal prosecutor. That’s a contrast with recent attorneys general: Delaney was a former prosecutor in the office, as was his predecessor, now-U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

Foster noted that the attorney general’s office has wide responsibilities, including but not limited to prosecuting homicides and other criminal cases.

“The attorney general’s office does a lot of things. . . . I’m going to be active in all of those areas,” he said. “I’m going to manage all of them and I’m going to be working with the bureau chiefs . . . in every one of those areas, because they’re all important – including, of course, the Criminal Justice Bureau.”

The council, which has a 3-2 Democratic majority, didn’t vote yesterday on Foster’s nomination. It’s scheduled to meet again Wednesday.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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