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Problems at county attorney’s office go back a year; situation continues

MANCHESTER – While meetings on the subject have consumed much of First Assistant County Attorney Kent Smith’s time this week, leaving him without availability or time to return phone calls, embattled County Attorney Michael Conlon continues to question the timing and motives of the takeover of his office by a team of assistant Attorneys General.

Deputy Attorney General Jane Young on Wednesday afternoon convened a somewhat hastily arranged press conference at the AG’s office in Concord, telling media representatives who were able to make it that she called the conference because she doesn’t have “20 minutes” to answer questions every time she is contacted about the agency’s takeover of Conlon’s office, according to an InDepthNH.org story posted online later Wednesday.

The convenience and practicality of gathering news media together so she can discuss the situation and answer any questions all at one time was among the reasons Young said she called the press conference.

Perhaps the chief reason, according to InDepthNH.org and other news accounts, was to give Young the opportunity to rebuff allegations that the AG’s takeover of Conlon’s office was politically motivated.

Continually having to answer to such allegations, Young told InDepth.org, “is an insult to us and to our office … we need it to stop.”

Conlon, a Democrat, defeated incumbent County Attorney Dennis Hogan, a Republican, by less than 5,000 votes in the 2018 election. The fact Conlon had no previous experience as a prosecutor apparently didn’t deter his voters during the Democratic “blue wave” of 2018.

Now, former Manchester police chief David Mara is poised to become an assistant Attorney General “to help oversee and administer” the county attorney’s office, according to New Hampshire Public Radio reporting.

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald is expected to appoint Mara to the post in the near future. Until then, Young, along with assistant Attorneys General Ben Agati and Erin Fitzgerald, are overseeing the office’s daily affairs.

The Hillsborough County attorney oversees what’s long been the state’s most populous county, and the only one with two jurisdictions: Hillsborough South in Nashua and Hillsborough North in Manchester.

Together, North and South currently have roughly 20 assistant county attorneys on staff, a slight majority in Manchester. Each has a first assistant county attorney; Smith, in Nashua, while the Manchester post has yet to be filled since the departure of attorney Leslie Gill.

Smith, although unable to be reached for additional comments, has indicated that the ongoing transition in the county attorney’s office isn’t expected to have a significant impact on the staff at the Nashua court.

Staffing has been an issue over time, and could be playing a role in the ability to schedule hearings in a timely fashion.

The staff will also need to devote time in the near future to adjust to the debut of electronic filing of criminal cases, which is known as E-FILE. The system is expected to come on line in Nashua in October or November. E-FILE took effect for civil cases last year.

Young, meanwhile, told InDepthNH.org that the AG’s office began getting word of problems in the county attorney’s office more than a year ago when Hogan was in charge.

The issues, Young said, stemmed from a “lack of leadership (of) the then-county attorney,” referring to Hogan.

Young said although the AG’s office continued reviewing the office and making suggestions during Conlon’s administration, conditions didn’t improve, she told InDepthNH.org.

While Young said Conlon “was given time and suggestions as to how to straighten out the office … he simply failed to do that,” InDepthNH reported.

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph_DeanS.