By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Attorney General Gordon MacDonald has ended his controversial day-to-day supervision of the criminal law enforcement functions in the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office, according to a news release issued Monday.
MacDonald took over those functions on Sept. 9, 2019, after first sending Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon a letter notifying him in March of problems in his office and that of his predecessor. He asked Conlon to resign the elected office, but he refused.
The problems included lacking a functional organizational structure. MacDonald also complained that the largest county attorney’s office in the state was devoid of office policies and procedures specific to the prosecutorial function of the office.
He recommended that Conlon hire experienced prosecutors to assist with the management of the office and to supervise, train and assist prosecutors with the pretrial litigation and trial practice. He assigned Senior Assistant Attorney General Ben Agati and Assistant Attorney General Erin Fitzgerald to provide leadership and support working with the county attorney.
Conlon was pleased to have control back of his full office. “I think it’s a good thing for the office and the team here and for Hillsborough County,” Conlon said.
MacDonald focused on the significant progress his office observed and the fact that elections are coming and he didn’t want prosecutorial control to be an issue.
Since he started, Conlon, who had no previous experience before being elected top prosecutor in the largest county, said there was a 27 percent increase in his budget bringing it to $5.86 million. He was then able to hire five more prosecutors, an investigator, a clerk and victim witness advocate. “Adding those positions was instrumental in moving the office forward,” Conlon said.
He said he doesn’t anticipate layoffs as a result of local budget woes due to COVID-19, but the three additional attorneys, two secretaries and one advocate he was seeking won’t be possible in the next budget. This one ends June 30. His office prosecutes about 3,500 cases a year.
“I think right now is a tough time being in law enforcement as the country is digesting a lot of life and death issues. Black lives do matter and it’s important to have competent leaders to make sure there is equal justice under the law,” Conlon said.
When MacDonald, a Republican appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, first took over the prosecutorial functions in Hillsborough County, Democrats claimed it was politically motivated against Conlon, a Democrat.
But Deputy Attorney General Jane Young at the time insisted that wasn’t the case.
In his letter to Conlon Monday, MacDonald said the improved relationship with the Manchester Police Department must continue.
He also showcased the implementation of a plea agreement review for certain felonies such as sexual assault and physical assault.
“This review policy must remain in effect with you and or a first assistant county attorney approving any such plea prior to an offer being extended,” MacDonald wrote.
He said Associate Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin will be available to support the office and another state attorney will be present at the county office two days a week to provide support and training.
“Thank you for your cooperation and assistance over the last 10 months. I look forward to continuing our work to build upon the improvements that have been made and to ensure that justice is achieved for the people of Hillsborough County,” MacDonald wrote.