Sununu’s AG pick praised by GOP, Dems at public hearing

  • Manchester attorney Gordon MacDonald speaks during a public hearing in the Executive Council chambers Tuesday at the State House in Concord. MacDonald is Gov. Chris Sununu’s nominee to be the state’s next attorney general. AP

  • Attorney General nominee Gordon MacDonald listens as Former New Hampshire Chief Justice John Broderick testifies on his behalf at a public hearing before the Executive Council on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. ALLIE MORRIS—Courtesy photo

Monitor staff
Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Gordon MacDonald pledged to bring his “full focus” to tackling the state’s opioid crisis and said he will recuse himself from any conflicts of interest if he’s confirmed as New Hampshire’s next attorney general.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu recently tapped the Manchester attorney to lead the justice department, an appointment that needs Executive Council sign-off. At a public hearing Tuesday, MacDonald’s nomination drew widespread praise from Democrats, Republicans, a former governor and legal leaders alike.

“He is universally respected throughout the state bar and bench for his intelligence, his skills as an attorney, his principles and his unquestionable ethics,” said Lynne Parker, Executive Director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

MacDonald, a partner at Nixon Peabody, didn’t face any specific questions from executive councilors about his time representing Purdue Pharma, as it was investigated by the state for deceptive marketing of prescription painkillers. He and other lawyers representing the drug company have been in a protracted court battle with the attorney general’s office over whether to release documents related to the investigation.

In his opening statement, MacDonald promised to abide by the Department of Justice recusal policy.
“I have always held myself to the highest ethical standards of my profession,” he said.

Outgoing attorney general Joe Foster, nominated by former Democratic governor Maggie Hassan, focused much of his four-year term on fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic. MacDonald pledged to bring a fresh set of eyes and ears to the issue and take on any new challenges that crop up.

Though councilors sought to get MacDonald’s opinions on school choice bills currently before the Legislature and whether he would “stand up” for marriage equality and reproductive rights, the nominee largely deferred, saying he would uphold the state constitution.

“The laws of New Hampshire are my obligation to enforce, period. And it will be my high honor to do so,” MacDonald said. Before he takes on any legal issue, MacDonald said he likes to read, study and think on it. The Republican-led council is expected to vote on his nomination next week. He already has at least one vote from Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Concord Democrat.

Former governor Steve Merrill, former chief justice John Broderick and former U.S. attorney for New Hampshire Emily Rice, among others, testified to MacDonald’s high ethical standards, his skill as an attorney and his compassion for others.

MacDonald, a graduate of Cornell Law School, is active in volunteer legal aid programs and has represented domestic violence victims as a pro bono attorney. For three years, he chaired the Campaign for Legal Services’s fundraising efforts. 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.

No one testified against him. The hearing veered into sincere moments at times, with Hopkinton Selectman Jim O’Brien calling MacDonald a mentor. And it took on a light tone too, such as when MacDonald revealed the book he’s reading at the moment, in response to a council question.

“It’s called Political Order and Political Intent,” he responded. “I will say I am on page 46, and I have been on page 46 for about three weeks.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)