Amid lawsuit, county says its ability to oversee prosecutors’ office is ‘limited’

  • People arrive for the tour of the new Merrimack County Courthouse in back of the former building off of Court Street on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 8/12/2019 4:39:21 PM

In the wake of a civil lawsuit against the Merrimack County Attorney’s Office, the county’s three commissioners said Monday they have limited oversight of the department and the decisions of its top prosecutor, who is chosen by voters.

“While the Board of County Commissioners is generally responsible for overseeing all aspects of county government, the elected County Attorney is solely responsible for overseeing the functions of the County Attorney’s office, including its investigative, prosecutorial and law enforcement functions,” Commissioners Chairwoman Tara Reardon wrote in a letter distributed Monday. “As a result, the Commissioners are limited in their ability to determine how the County Attorney’s office is run and where it focuses its efforts.”

Last week, former sexual assault investigator Jennifer Adams sued Merrimack County and County Attorney Robin Davis, who is accused of creating a hostile work environment since taking over more than seven months ago. Through her attorney Charles Douglas, Adams has brought multiple civil claims against Davis and the county in Merrimack County Superior Court, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, gender discrimination and aiding and abetting unlawful discriminatory practices. Adams is seeking

back wages and heath benefit costs, attorneys’ fees and compensatory damages.

Reardon said Monday she is unable to comment on the specific allegations contained in the lawsuit or on any personnel matters related to those claims. However, she did cite broader concerns raised in recent months accusing Davis of engaging in victim-blaming behavior and of not supporting programs aimed to enhance the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults in the county.

“The County Commissioners wish to make clear that they have and will continue to support County-sponsored victims’ rights and advocacy programs, as well as programs intended to assist local police departments with sex crime investigations,” Reardon wrote.

The statement, released Monday morning, only addressed issues related to the Merrimack County Attorney’s Office and made no mention of Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard’s arrest on drunken driving charges on Friday.

Adams, who previously worked for Northfield police, spent the last four years investigating sexual assault crimes as a fulltime employee for the county attorney’s office. In that role, she provided assistance to law enforcement agencies, particularly small towns with limited resources, to collect evidence, interview victims and assist with background investigations of witnesses and defendants.

But Adams alleges in her lawsuit that Davis did not value the position and routinely made her fear for her job.

Davis effectively disbanded the office’s sexual assault unit in December when she chose to eliminate two part-time positions held by veteran assistant county attorneys Susan Larrabee and George Stewart. Soon after, longtime prosecutor David Rotman tendered his resignation, leaving just Adams and a victim-witness coordinator from the specialized unit. Adams said she was deeply affected by the three departures and constantly felt under attack by Davis who she said interrogated her in front of colleagues.

Adams reported to human resources that Davis treated her differently than her co-workers and that she believed her gender played a part. According to the lawsuit, Davis had also told Adams that “she felt investigators taint cases and she didn’t believe in specialties like sex or child abuse.”

Adams filed a formal hostile work environment complaint against Davis in early June. In response, the county hired Drummond Woodsum law firm to investigate as Adams was placed on paid leave. Consultant Penelope Wheeler-Abbott spoke with 11 people who work for or with the office and concluded her investigation weeks later, finding evidence of hostile conduct by Davis. Acting County Administrator Ross Cunningham has declined to say how the county has responded to those findings, calling the situation “a personnel matter.”

In her letter Monday, Reardon said the county strives to create a healthy and successful working environment for its employees.

“All County employees, including those working in the County Attorney’s office, have the ability to raise concerns regarding workplace issues,” she wrote. “When appropriate, the County investigates employees concerns and determines the appropriate remedial measures necessary to resolve those concerns.”

Upon receipt of the lawsuit, the county and Davis have 30 days to respond. No court dates have yet been scheduled.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at adandrea@cmonitor.com.)



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