Republican Gov. Chris Sununu announced Tuesday he will nominate Manchester attorney Gordon MacDonald as the state’s next attorney general.
MacDonald is a partner at Nixon Peabody, where he is a member of the commercial litigation group and represented clients opposing the state. In 2014, he helped New Hampshire hospitals negotiate a settlement agreement with the state over Medicaid reimbursements.
MacDonald also represented Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the painkiller OxyContin, in a legal battle against the office he’s preparing to lead. The attorney general’s office opened an investigation in 2015 into Purdue and other drugmakers suspected of deceptively marketing opioids. Over-prescribing of painkillers is seen as a key cause of New Hampshire’s present heroin and fentanyl crisis. MacDonald was listed as one of Purdue’s attorneys in court filings as recently as September.
The investigation is on hold as the state Supreme Court weighs whether the state can hire outside counsel for additional help. A spokeswoman for the court said MacDonald is listed as an “active attorney” for Purdue but his name is not on any briefs.
MacDonald declined to answer questions about whether he still represents Purdue. He referred inquiries about his current practice to the governor’s office.
Sununu spokesman Dave Abrams said the governor has worked closely with MacDonald to identify instances in which the Department of Justice’s recusal policy may apply.
“Gordon has every intention of upholding the integrity of the attorney general’s office by recusing himself when necessary,” Abrams said.
In a statement released by Sununu’s office, MacDonald said he is “humbled” by the nomination, which requires approval from the Executive Council.
“As the state’s chief law enforcement and legal officer, the responsibilities of this office are great. I am honored to have my name put forward and by the potential to serve our wonderful state,” he said.
MacDonald is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Cornell Law School. He is chairman of the New Hampshire Board of Bar Examiners. Beyond the law, MacDonald has been a presence in New Hampshire Republican politics for decades. He was chief of staff for former U.S. senator Gordon Humphrey, and last summer he went to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as a delegate for Marco Rubio.
MacDonald is also active in volunteer legal aid programs, and colleagues and fellow attorneys describe him as a thoughtful and meticulous lawyer.
“Throughout his distinguished legal career, Gordon has demonstrated exceptional legal talent with the highest levels of respect for the rule of law,” Sununu said in a statement. “Gordon is widely respected across New Hampshire’s legal community and has earned a sterling reputation for his legal talents and commitment to public service.”
Sununu will formally submit MacDonald’s nomination at Wednesday’s council meeting and the Republican-led council is expected to vote on the appointment April 5. If confirmed, MacDonald would succeed Joseph Foster, who is retiring at the end of March after four years leading the state’s Department of Justice.
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky said he expects to ask MacDonald what steps he would take to make sure he is screened from working on matters he dealt with as a private attorney.
“I don’t want to downplay it, but it’s not an insurmountable problem,” said Volinsky, a Concord Democrat and a practicing attorney. “I know Mr. MacDonald to be a very ethical lawyer; I am not concerned about his ethics.”
Beyond his professional practice, MacDonald is active in New Hampshire’s legal community. For three years, he chaired the Campaign for Legal Services’ fundraising efforts to support legal assistance for low-income people, and he is a volunteer attorney for a domestic violence assistance program.
“For someone who has incredible demands on his time on a daily basis, he’s always made it a priority to make sure that the legal system meets the needs of the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Sarah Palermo, campaign director for the Campaign for Legal Services.
The term for state attorney general is four years.