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No crimes found in birther uproar

Last modified: 3/6/2012 12:00:00 AM
House Speaker Bill O'Brien reported with satisfaction yesterday that conduct by House Republicans at a hearing last year deemed "unruly and aggressive" by the attorney general did not violate any laws or legislative ethics.

O'Brien said an investigation he requested by the head of State House security turned up no wrongdoing, but he told Attorney General Michael Delaney that the representatives involved "were very upset when the allegations made by you and your staff were not founded when made and publicized."

"They justifiably feel they were convicted in the court of public opinion by your office based on charges that would not, and did not, survive the light of careful review," O'Brien wrote. "I share all their concerns, and in addition I am concerned more generally with the roughshod manner in which your office has dealt with this Legislature."

In November, the state Ballot Law Commission unanimously rejected a complaint backed by several House Republicans seeking the removal of President Obama from the ballot in New Hampshire's Democratic primary. Following the decision, Republican legislators and other attendees shouted their displeasure at the five-member commission and Assistant Attorney General Matt Mavrogeorge. Video of the incident was posted on YouTube.

"Saying a treasonous liar can go on our ballot?" Rep. Harry Accornero, a Laconia Republican, yelled at the commission. "You're going to have to face the citizens of Laconia. You better wear a mask."

Mavrogeorge said in a four-page recounting of the incident that "never in my life have I witnessed such appalling behavior by anyone, let alone elected officials." Mavrogeorge said he feared for his safety and locked himself in a room with Assistant Secretary of State Karen Ladd. Delaney requested a law enforcement review.

"No state employee should find himself in this situation, and I am asking the General Court to take whatever steps it deems appropriate concerning the standards of conduct exhibited by these elected officials," Delaney wrote.

In an interview with authorities, Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan described the scene at the hearing as "pretty chaotic" and that "he personally did not feel threatened by being present in the room but understands how AAG Mavrogeorge may have become concerned." Ladd said, unlike Mavrogeorge, she did not fear for her safety during the incident, but Ladd said she also didn't notice how contentious the situation had become until an attorney advised she get Mavrogeorge "out of here."

Rep. Susan DeLemus, a freshman Republican from Rochester, acknowledged raising her voice when speaking with Mavrogeorge and issued an apology afterward. DeLemus, who is clerk of the House Election Law committee, told authorities she thought Mavrogeorge was longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

Reviewing the investigation, House counsel Ed Mosca said he found nothing that would constitute an ethics violation or abuse of office by the representatives involved.

Accornero said in a statement yesterday he believes he is owed a public apology by the attorney general, who was attempting to "malign representatives' characters."

"Myself, and others, simply were doing what we felt was right in standing up for the New Hampshire Constitution and, while our opinions and beliefs can differ, there is no excuse for such intentional malice," he said.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican who Mavrogeorge described as "staring at me with an angry look on his face," echoed Accornero's call for an apology in his statement, charging Delaney "tied up the time of not only the state police captain but also the security chief of the legislature, which was a momentous misuse of their time and an abominable waste of taxpayer money."

Relations between the attorney general's office and House Republicans have been strained since early last year, when Delaney spoke out against a bill that sought to force him to join a lawsuit opposing the Obama administration's federal health care overhaul. Delaney said the bill was encroachment by the Legislature on the executive branch, a stance backed by a bipartisan group of past attorneys general. O'Brien's letter yesterday requested a meeting with Delaney "so that we can identify ways in which we can work to rebuild both your and the Department of Justice's reputation with the House."

"The low esteem with which many representatives hold your agency is unhelpful to a properly functioning government and undermines our ability to work together to find solutions for the citizens of New Hampshire," O'Brien wrote.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)


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