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Two Republican candidates vie for open county attorney seat

  • Paul Halvorsen —Courtesy



Monitor staff
Sunday, September 09, 2018

With the former county attorney now the state’s federal prosecutor, the Merrimack County attorney’s race is wide open with two Republican candidates vying for the job.

Voters will choose Tuesday between Paul Halvorsen and Nicole Schultz-Price. Since no candidate exists on the Democratic side, the winner of Tuesday’s primary will almost certainly win in an uncontested general election.   

Halvorsen is a city prosecutor in Concord with more than 15 years of experience. Schultz-Price is an assistant Hillsborough County attorney who hopes to have the opportunity to work in her home county after three years of prosecuting various felony cases in superior courts in Manchester and Nashua.

This is the first time in eight years that former Merrimack County Attorney Scott Murray won’t seek re-election. Murray is serving as U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire after President Donald Trump nominated him in November and the full Senate confirmed his appointment earlier this year. In recent months, the county attorney’s office has been led by Deputy County Attorney George Waldron.

Paul Halvorsen

Halvorsen is a former two-term city councilor who moved to Concord in early 1998 after retiring from the U.S. Air Force the year before. Halvorsen, who earned his law degree at Franklin Pierce Law Center, also has graduate degrees in forensic science and public administration.

Given his 15-year history prosecuting criminal cases in Merrimack County, Halvorsen said he believes he is uniquely positioned to be the next county attorney. Halvorsen became a prosecutor in early 2003 after having worked as a public defender for more than two years.

Halvorsen said his number one priority, if elected, would be the statewide drug crisis. He cited the latest indictments handed up in Merrimack County Superior Court, where 45 percent of defendants were charged with drug-related crimes, with the majority of those people claiming Concord residences.

“Those numbers for Concord are very telling,” he said. “And just looking at the raw drug numbers doesn’t even give you the full impact of it. How many other calls for service or complaints do first responders get that are drug related?”

Halvorsen said crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault must also be prioritized by the office.

In order to better understand adult defendants’ criminal histories and past behaviors, procedures need to be in place for county attorneys to obtain pertinent information from the juvenile courts without violating confidentiality laws, he said. For example, if a child has used drugs since age 13 but only shows up in the criminal system at age 18, the court may not know what prior interventions were not successful, he said.

In setting the tone for the office, Halvorsen said he believes it is important for the county attorney to work on legislative issues when appropriate. For example, he disagrees with an exemption in the Drug Free School Zones statute that prevents defendants convicted of selling drugs in a “private residence” near schools from facing enhanced penalties; he believes those enhanced penalties should apply to all.

As discussion continues in New Hampshire about incorporating victims’ rights into the state constitution, Halvorsen said he is on the fence about whether a Constitutional amendment is really necessary, in part, because the Victim Bill of Rights is so strong.

“There can be little argument that statutes are able to be quickly adjusted through the legislative process when shortfalls in protections are discovered,” he said. “Changes to constitutional provisions, however, are much more difficult and time-consuming; accordingly, the very persons we seek to protect, the victims, might suffer awaiting additional constitutional amendments.”

Under a new bail reform bill that took effect Aug. 31, pretrial release of people charged with crimes is expected to increase. Police officers and current county attorneys have voiced concern that courts will take an overly expansive view of the new law allowing potentially dangerous criminals to remain free pending trial. Halvorsen said it’s too early to say how judges will execute the law and what effects their decisions will have on defendants and the broader community.

Nicole Schultz-Price

Schultz-Price, who lives in Hopkinton with her husband and two children, grew up in the Keene area. She earned her undergraduate degree at UMass Amherst and her law degree at Syracuse University in New York, where she accepted a job at a small firm and stayed for three years after graduation.

Since 2015, Schultz-Price has been a county prosecutor in nearby Hillsborough County, where she has tried everything from human trafficking cases, to attempted murders and crimes of sexual violence. Schultz-Price said she views the top prosecutor job in Merrimack County as a chance to continue the work she loves in her own community.

“We’re really involved in our community, including in sports and the Hopkinton Youth Sports Association. That’s really important to us, but being so involved and yet not working here is a bit odd for me. I saw this position as a great opportunity to move up in my career but also continue my work as a prosecutor,” she said.

She began her campaign early, placing signs throughout the city to build name recognition. She said she included her photo on the signs in an effort to make a personal connection with voters, rather than just be another name on a sign.

Schultz-Price said her main goal as county attorney would be to improve communication and enhance relationships between local police officers and county prosecutors. That includes more opportunities for officers to train to better prepare them for how to testify in court.

“We’re on the same team, so that means we need to be on the same page,” she said.

She also wants to do more team-building and in-house training with assistant county attorneys, where veterans can counsel and more formally share their experiences with newer prosecutors so they feel more confident in the courtroom.

Schultz-Price said the biggest issue facing the state – and most likely the county – is the drug crisis, and that as county attorney she would devote significant resources to that fight. Part of that battle will be to lead in efforts to enhance the county’s relatively new drug court, which continues to face challenges with screening for appropriate participants and assigning consequences for noncompliance. She said she supports the concept behind a drug court but has concerns about how it’s currently operating.

As a prosecutor, Schultz-Price said she considers herself victim-centered and believes strongly in the Victim Bill of Rights. She said she generally supports the concept of a constitutional amendment for crime victims but would want to review the specifics of any legislative proposal before endorsing it.

Schultz-Price said she has concerns about the bail reform law that took effect Aug. 31 because she believes it could do more to protect crime victims.

“Exceptions crafted into the statute could leave victims susceptible to repeat offenses,” she said. “We all have concerns that there’s going to be an abundance of people getting personal recognizance bail who are a risk to the community.”