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Gordon hopes to regain seat as Carroll County Attorney


October 18, 2012
COUNTY — In just 19 days, Carroll County will have a new county attorney. Robin Gordon (D-Tamworth) hopes to regain the role as the county's top prosecutor, a position she held previously for 11 years before being unseated by Thomas Dewhurst in the 2010 election.

Gordon was challenged in the September Primary by Diana Bolander and won the Democratic nomination in a vote of 1,854 to 1,407. Gordon will be challenged on Nov. 6 by assistant county attorney Stephen Murray (R-Wolfeboro). We asked both candidates a series of questions and the responses, in their words, are featured below.

ROBIN GORDON

Why are you seeking re-election to the office of county attorney?

I am seeking re-election to the Office of County Attorney because this position requires the knowledge and experience that I have gained in the more than twenty years of working in Coos and Carroll County. The county attorney is the chief law enforcement officer in the county; it is important to the courts, law enforcement and victims of crime to have a seasoned prosecutor who understands management and crime and I have those credentials.

What qualifications, qualities or experience would you bring to this position?

I have prosecuted crime in Coos and Carroll County and have hired and supervised all but one of the current Carroll County Attorney's Office staff. I have the knowledge, experience and skill for this job.

I began my criminal justice career in 1990 in Carroll County as the court-appointed criminal defense attorney in both Superior and District courts. In 1995, I became the first assistant county attorney in Coos County and remained in that position until I resigned in 1998 to run for the Carroll County Attorney position. I was elected and served as the Carroll County Attorney from 1999 to 2010. Throughout that time I prosecuted cases, worked with the Child Advocacy Center, sponsored the Lethality Assessment protocol training for first crime scene responders in domestic violence cases and have worked with law enforcement, pharmacists, the Public Health nurse and the FBI to bring the first prescription drug disposal day to Carroll County."

During one pre-Primary interview, your Democratic opponent attacked your conviction rate. What would you tell voters that might have been left with the impression that you can't win in court? Do you think the county attorney should act solely in an administrative capacity or also try cases in addition to administrative responsibilities?

The first and foremost role of the County Attorney is to seek justice. Being successful in the courtroom is more than a notch in a prosecutor's belt. It is making sure attorneys are prepared, competent and fair while representing the State. Conviction rates do not reflect success or failure. The cases my assistants and I tried were difficult and we did not take to trial only the cases we could win. Those were the cases that were negotiated.

The County Attorney's Office now has a staff of six. Three assistant county attorneys, two paralegals and one victim/ witness advocate. The role of the assistants is to manage their caseload and when the defendant exercises his or her right to trial, to prosecute the case.

The County Attorney has to have a hands-on approach. I have always had an active role in the office and courtroom whether assessing cases with law enforcement, reviewing cases for grand jury, approving plea negotiations, working with law enforcement, corrections and local, state and federal agencies. I have conducted pre-trial hearings and post-trial hearings, tried cases and declined cases. I will continue to work towards just results in all cases.

There has been much discussion at the budget table about the turnover rate amongst assistant county attorneys that they are underpaid compared to their counterparts in other counties and in the private sector. Any thoughts on the salaries/benefits the assistant attorneys are receiving now and on the turnover rate?

Retaining assistant county attorneys is difficult. During my 12 years as the County Attorney 10 assistants left the office. Eight left because of low salaries. Every two years I gathered salary information from the other counties and Carroll County was invariably either at the bottom of the list or close to it. In the last two years, two more assistants have left. Recruiting assistants is an on ongoing process. Although attorneys do not work in this field of public service for the money, it is important to acknowledge that law school debt is a financial burden. Attracting eager, experienced attorney's requires competitive salaries.

The staff in the county attorney's office has worked under a different boss for nearly two years now. Recently there was a Conway Daily Sun article detailing an apparent falling out between your opponent and the office manager, resulting in a sheriff's deputy being called in to cool the situation. Ultimately, this is a personnel matter but do you think it raises concerns about your opponent's ability to effectively manage the county attorney's office?

Characterizing this as "an apparent falling out" is generous. Whenever an assistant county attorney or anyone for that matter, confronts a staff member, then calls law enforcement for help, it shows a lack of professionalism and leadership. I would not tolerate this conduct and there is no excuse for this behavior. This is a high stress job that requires team work. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and it is important to create a work place that is supportive and collegial. Good management includes communication and trust.



In a pre-Primary interview, both you and your opponent, Diana Bolander dismissed Republican candidate Stephen Murray as a "novice." Beyond your years of legal experience, in what ways are you more qualified than Murray to lead the county attorney's office?

I hired my opponent five years ago when he had just graduated from law school. He struggled with courtroom confidence but was gaining experience. With only five years of experience he has not yet developed the judgment, experience and leadership qualities necessary to lead this serious and important office.

I have developed years of relationships with the Carroll County agencies and since I left office I have maintained these relationships. I have worked for over twenty years fostering a team approach. I recognize that stress, long hours and hard work is the nature of the job. I also understand that public safety, victim's right's and fair results for defendant's are the ultimate responsibility of the county attorney. I have the temperament, experience and knowledge to lead this office in a professional and supportive manner.

There has been much discussion this year about recidivism and inmates who sometimes return multiple times over a very few numbers of years to CCHOC. There is currently a committee formed that is meeting to explore ways to reduce recidivism. Do you see recidivism as a problem? Should the county attorney be involved in this process? In what ways could you contribute to the effort to reduce recidivism?

Recidivism is a problem however we need to identify the population who is re-offending and being re-arrested. Substance abuse is often an underlying issue that needs to be addressed by working with programs than have a proven record of success with treatment. Domestic violence is another area that needs more attention. Family and intimate partner violence occurs in startling numbers and we need to address more seriously how to hold batterers accountable.

The County Attorney needs to be at the table and working with the County Commissioners, the defense bar, the department of corrections, probation and the courts to identify and support appropriate systems that address the needs of defendants and help them access programs so that they become productive members of our communities.

Drug courts and mental health courts are excellent judicial intervention programs but without effective and appropriate alternatives to incarceration they place an additional burden on our judges. At this time in our economy, judge time is at a premium and we need effective and efficient ways to work together to address the costs both socially and financially.

If elected, what would be the top three things on your to-do list?

• Create a professional and competent law firm dedicated to the administration of justice.

• Re-establish the County Attorney's office as a resource for law enforcement.

• Establish goals for reducing recidivism in Carroll County by making the best use of available resources and identifying what programs are needed to reduce costs, while ensuring public safety and defendant accountability.

STEPHEN MURRAY

Why are you seeking election to the office of county attorney?

Carroll County deserves a county attorney who will seek justice for victims, those accused of crimes and most importantly the community. I'm the best candidate to seek justice on behalf of the community. My opponent has regularly failed to seek justice to the detriment of the county. Here are just three examples.

There was a traffic fatality in North Conway towards the end of Attorney Gordon's last term. Gordon refused to even investigate the case. After Attorney Dewhurst took over, I was given the opportunity to resume the investigation and to seek justice for the victim of the accident if appropriate. We continue to look into the circumstances to determine if a crime was committed.

Another case in particular stands out: Attorney Gordon directed me to accept a plea agreement which had been opposed by the local police chief and the chief probation/parole officer in this county. The defendant, a Tamworth man, had been convicted of multiple crimes on multiple occasions: drugs, thefts and domestic violence, and was unwilling to change his behavior. However, Attorney Gordon agreed to another house of corrections sentence and more probation even though the assistant county attorney handling the case, the police and the department of corrections all agreed that a state prison sentence was the only just result.

While working for Attorney Gordon, I prosecuted three church elders for failing to report abuse of a child. I obtained an important conviction. But what was disturbing was that Gordon refused to prosecute the person who had actually molested the young girl despite the fact that the local police had obtained a full confession. After Attorney Dewhurst took office, I got an indictment from the grand jury and a plea and now that person is on the sex offender registry and this community is safer for it.

What qualifications, qualities or experience would you bring to this position?

I have been an assistant county attorney for five years. Prior to law school, I worked for years in management in banking and manufacturing, but more importantly, I have the knowledge, persistence and creativity to effectively seek justice on behalf of this community and to effectively seek punishment for criminal activity.

For example, several years ago, I prosecuted a defendant for theft after he had been acquitted of numerous charges in another county. By working with the State Police for over two years investigating bank and court records, I was able to secure sufficient evidence to get the defendant to plead guilty to a felony theft and he was ordered to pay over $20,000 in restitution.

In a more recent case, a father had been allowing his son and his son's friends to use his house to do drugs including heroin. I prosecuted the father for maintaining what would commonly be called a "crack house," and he was convicted. The defendant's attorney called the "crack house" law "little known and seldom used." Drugs had ruined the lives of many of the young people involved and driven them to property crime. I was able to use this "little known" law to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood and to hold the defendant accountable for ruining the lives of his son and his son's friends and for bringing crime into his neighborhood.

I have my law degree from the University of Richmond, a master's degree from the University of Virginia, and a bachelor's degree from the University of New Hampshire.

During the Democratic Primary interviews, both candidates essentially dismissed you as young, a novice, and lacking the prosecutorial and management skills to effectively run the county attorney's office. How do you respond to those accusations? While it is true that you have not been practicing law for as many years as your opponent, what sets you apart from your opponent?

My track record shows that I have the prosecutorial and management skills to be county attorney. Any comments to the contrary are merely statements of a politician trying to diminish her opponent. My successful track record shows that the combination of my education, private sector experience and prosecution experience makes me the best candidate for county attorney.

There has been much discussion at the budget table about the turnover rate amongst assistant county attorneys and that they are underpaid compared to their counterparts in other counties and in the private sector. Any thoughts on the salaries/benefits the assistant attorneys are receiving now and on the turnover rate?

Turnover of Assistant County Attorneys was driven by Attorney Gordon's failure to implement effective policies and procedures, give regular performance evaluations or provide sufficient opportunities for training and development and low salaries compared to other counties and the private sector. In fact, Attorney Gordon was such a poor manager that one attorney who was terminated filed a successful lawsuit for wrongful termination. The county settled the suit for $135,000. This was by far the largest settlement of any lawsuit filed against the county in the past eight years. As county attorney, I will effectively manage personnel to ensure that the Carroll County Attorney's Office effectively prosecutes crime while being an attractive work atmosphere.

Recently there was a newspaper article detailing an apparent falling out between you and the office manager, resulting in a sheriff's deputy being called in to cool the situation. Such news would suggest that there is turmoil within the county attorney's office. Do you think you handled the situation appropriately given the circumstances? If not, what might have been done differently? If there is turmoil within the county attorney's office, to what would you attribute that to and if elected what would you do to correct the problem(s)?

As I said in that initial article, I am choosing not to discuss the events which led to the telephone call because they involve a personnel issue regarding another employee. The situation was handled correctly and the dispute is not a sign of any "turmoil." However, I can say that the situation would never have occurred had there been clear office policies in place. In her 12 years as county attorney, my opponent did not have any written policies or procedures. Over the last two years, Attorney Dewhurst has begun the lengthy process of developing and implementing written policies and procedures and I would continue that process so that in the future, all employees will follow appropriate procedures.

There has been much discussion this year about recidivism and inmates who sometimes return multiple times over a very few numbers of years to CCHOC. There is currently a committee formed that is meeting to explore ways to reduce recidivism. Do you see recidivism as a problem? Should the county attorney be involved in this process? In what ways could you contribute to the effort to reduce recidivism?

All crime is a problem whether it's a repeat offender or a first-time offender. Recidivism does need to be addressed to ensure that our sentences are effective at rehabilitation and deterrence. The Carroll County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, of which I am a member, is developing programs to improve the effectiveness of incarceration and offender supervision. Effectively targeted rehabilitative programs can reduce crime and reduce the costs of corrections; however these programs will not be a quick-fix.

The county attorney needs to work with the Department of Corrections on a regular basis to ensure that sentences serve the interests of justice and promote the goals of sentencing: punishment, rehabilitation and deterrence. The criminal justice coordinating committee is just one way in which I have worked to improve our corrections system. In addition to serving on the committee, I have taught training programs for corrections officers, represented the county in lawsuits filed by prisoners and assisted in the development of reentry programs for inmates about to be released. As County Attorney, I will continue to work closely with law enforcement, corrections and the court to improve the quality and efficiency of the criminal justice system.

Do you see the role of county attorney as merely an administrative one or, if elected, would you continue to prosecute cases?

The county attorney cannot be just an administrator. Attorney Gordon has consistently campaigned to be a "full-time county attorney," unfairly criticizing her primary opponent, Attorney Bolander. My opponent has never been a full-time county attorney; she didn't personally try a case in at least her last four years in office. The former county attorney's unwillingness to carry some of the work load led to more work for the assistant county attorneys which was one factor driving the high turnover caused by Attorney Gordon.

If elected, what would be the top three things on your to-do list?

First, I would like to finish the work County Attorney Tom Dewhurst has begun to improve personnel management. This includes rewriting job descriptions, setting performance benchmarks and developing a framework for employee evaluations. Second, I would continue working with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee to develop an intensive probation supervision program. This program is necessary because judges expect such a program and without one, judges are likely to put criminals onto the street without appropriate programming and without assurances that the community will be protected. Most importantly, because there are several significant trials scheduled for early 2013, I would like to ensure that there is a seamless transition between Attorney Dewhurst and myself.

Please provide any additional information you wish to share with voters.

Working with our police officers to prevent and prosecute crime over the past five years has been a great honor. If elected, I will work every day to seek justice on behalf of victims and the community. I have knocked on thousands of doors since this campaign began and I've found that voters share my concerns. I am out campaigning for every vote, Democrat, Independent and Republican. I am confident that if I am elected, I will work effectively with law enforcement to make this county a better place to live, work and visit.

Gilford Well
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Coos County Department of Corr
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