House Majority Leader resigns amid law school fraud claims
When the N.H. House of Representatives reconvenes this week, it will do so without one of its most powerful and controversial figures.
Rep. D.J. Bettencourt, the House majority leader, resigned his position suddenly over the weekend amid accusations that he had misrepresented his work history on law school documents.
The Salem Republican first indicated Friday that he did not intend to seek re-election when his term came to an end this fall. But, after the accusations surfaced that he exaggerated and fabricated an internship program at the law firm of Brandon Giuda, a fellow state representative, Bettencourt immediately resigned from the position Sunday.
He did not return calls for comment Monday.
“It is true that I misrepresented work as work I performed for attorney Giuda,” Bettencourt wrote Sunday in a written statement, according to WMUR.com. “I take full responsibility for my conduct.”
Giuda, a Chichester Republican and attorney, first noticed discrepancies in Bettencourt’s work history after he found a post on Bettencourt’s Facebook page earlier this month concerning his graduation from the University of New Hampshire School of Law.
Bettencourt had inquired this spring about completing an internship program at Giuda’s law firm – a requirement for graduation from the law school. Over the following weeks, Bettencourt showed up for work only once, completing a single hour of legal work, Giuda said. So when he heard word of Bettencourt’s graduation, Giuda brought the question first to the law school and then to Bettencourt himself.
“When I saw that picture (of Bettencourt in a graduation cap and gown), I got a pit in my stomach,” Giuda said Monday afternoon. “I knew exactly what had happened.”
Documents Giuda obtained from the law school indicated that Bettencourt had fabricated more than 150 hours of legal work, inventing client meetings and court sessions, among other tasks.
“It blew me away, 11 weeks of fictional stuff ... that didn’t occur,” Giuda said. “Anyone who is going to complete a (program) in my office is going to learn something. I’m not going to rubber-stamp anything.”
Confronted with the documents, Bettencourt agreed Friday to resign from the House, announcing plans to leave effective June 7 to pursue other professional options and spend more time with his family. With the announcement, Bettencourt quickly drew praise from Republican leaders around the state for his time in office.
“I want to thank D.J. Bettencourt for his service to our state and for his leadership in Concord,” Wayne MacDonald, chairman of the Republican State Committee, wrote Friday. “With his help, our Republican Legislature has been turning the economy around and has reduced the state’s bloated budget.”
But Bettencourt’s resignation did not meet the conditions he and Giuda agreed to earlier, which required the majority leader to acknowledge problems at the law school, Giuda said. So Giuda called upon Bettencourt to resign once again – effective immediately this time.
Bettencourt issued his new statement Sunday morning.
“I will continue working with UNH School of Law to resolve this matter and I fully trust the process they have in place,” Bettencourt wrote. “That process is non-public, and that is how I plan to proceed.”
Looking forward, the House of Representatives will reconvene this week with the Majority Leader position vacant. Lawmakers are meeting in conference committees to finalize bills before their Thursday deadline, and House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, has not indicated yet how the majority leader post will be filled. He did not return calls for comment Monday.
“Certainly (Bettencourt) was playing a key role in a number of issues going on, but I am confident we have the talent in the leadership team to compensate for that,” state Rep. Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican and the House majority whip, said Monday.
“(Bettencourt) has a lot to offer,” Giuda added. “He’s a smart individual. He worked hard in the House. But ... nobody is indispensable. He will easily be replaced, and he will be replaced with somebody who is honest.”
Before House leaders find Bettencourt’s replacement, they have more questions to answer, according to state Democratic leaders.
Initially, Bettencourt said he planned to resign to become executive director of the New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation, a conservative group founded by O’Brien.
“Speaker Bill O’Brien has created a culture of corruption in Concord on an unprecedented level,” Ray Buckley, chairman of the state Democratic Party, wrote Sunday in a statement. “It is time for Bill O’Brien to come clean about his apparent role in attempting to cover up this latest scandal, and mislead people about Bettencourt’s resignation and law school graduation.”
Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.