CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire prosecutors said Thursday for the first time that their investigation into veteran Rockingham County attorney Jim Reams is criminal in nature.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young made the revelation in court documents filed in opposition to Reams’ motion to obtain details of the investigation. Officials previously said only that they are investigating the management and operation of Reams’ office.

Young said her office has interviewed more than 40 witnesses and hired an independent auditor in the course of the investigation.

Prosecutors also maintain that Reams’ public comments defending his conduct and attacking the credibility of his staff are harming the investigation.

“Employees have told the Attorney General’s Office that they are afraid of retaliation should Mr. Reams return to the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office,” Young said. “We have witnesses, and I would say victims, of Mr. Reams.”

Attorney General Joseph Foster stripped Reams of his prosecutorial authority Nov. 6 at the outset of a joint state and federal investigation. County commissioners subsequently barred Reams from entering his Brentwood office.

Reams’ attorney, Michael Ramsdell, argued Thursday in Merrimack Superior Court that Reams needs details of the allegations against him to further his case that Foster abused his discretion by removing Reams’ power to prosecute.

“I can’t produce witnesses to refute evidence when I don’t know what it is,” Ramsdell said. “I’ve got nothing.”

Young assured Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara that the evidence would support Reams’ removal.

Ramsdell told McNamara that some of the allegations before the Attorney General’s Office – including sexual harassment – have been investigated at least three times since 1999. He said those inquiries were conducted by the Attorney General’s Office, a deputy county attorney and the county’s human resources office.

Reams has been county attorney since 1998. He continues to receive his $85,000 annual salary while he’s suspended.

When asked after court about Young’s assertions that Reams’ public comments are having a chilling effect on the investigation, Ramsdell replied, “I don’t know how one intimidates witnesses by speaking to the media.”

McNamara said he would rule as soon as possible.

Both sides are due back in court next Thursday on Reams’ motion for reinstatement. It is likely that prosecutors will reveal additional details about their investigation at that hearing.

“For the first time we’ll find out specifically what my client is charged with,” Ramsdell told McNamara. “That’s not due process.”

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