The race is on for Carroll County Attorney
September 02, 2010
OSSIPEE — Farmington's former town administrator is challenging the long time incumbent Carroll County Attorney in the Democratic primary, but says he doesn't have much interest in winning.
New Hampshire's Primary Day is Tuesday, Sept. 14. At the polls, residents will select Republican and Democratic Party nominees, who will square off in November's general election. As for county positions, the only contested primary race is to become the Democratic Party nominee for county attorney. The race between incumbent Robin Gordon, of Tamworth, and Anthony Mincu, of Wolfeboro, doesn't look like a hot competition.
"By running my hope would be to initiate a public discussion as to how things may be made better in the world of prosecuting for the County Attorney's Office," said Mincu. "I have no great desire for this office, just a desire to challenge the incumbent to do better."
In contrast, Gordon seems eager to keep her job, which she's held since 1999. If she defeats Mincu, she'll go on to face Republican challenger Thomas Dewhurst, III, 49, of Bartlett, who is unopposed on the Republican side.
"I'm running because I'm the person best suited for this job," said Gordon.
After getting a degree from Franklin Pierce Law Center in 1987, Gordon began her career as a criminal defense lawyer in Carroll and Coös Counties until she was hired to be an assistant Coös County Attorney. She occupied that job until winning her current office. Gordon said over the years she's gained experience running an office and developed an "excellent relationship" with the various law enforcement agencies in the county. Over the last decade, the Carroll County Attorney's office has doubled in size. When she started, the office only had two assistant attorneys and the county attorney's position was part time. The county attorney's position became full time last year.
Mincu says his experience includes 20 years of management in the public and private sectors. Previously, he had served as Farmington's town administrator for three years. He left that job this summer. Mincu also said he has six years of prosecution experience with the Grafton County Attorney's Office and Littleton Police Department.
In his middle age, Mincu returned to law school and graduated from Franklin Pierce Law Center in 2000. If elected, Mincu said he'd improve communications with the public. For example, he'd have the names of the assistant county attorneys and the victim witness advocates listed on the county attorney's Web page.
"I would make the Internet site a portal for information of anything and everything to do with criminal prosecution, both on the local and the state level," said Mincu. "Secondly, I would look to coordinate with the local departments as to their needs and wants."
But Gordon said she is working on improving the technology at her office. She's working with other county attorneys and the attorney general's office to create a statewide database for all prosecutors. In addition, the county commission recently hired an IT company called Cybertron, of Belmont, to update the county's computers and help with general technology issues — for months, Gordon advocated computer support.
"If someone requests information from us, we essentially have to hand count the numbers," said Gordon.
Mincu said it's his impression that the county attorney's office is behind on technology because the incumbent's efforts have been hampered by the county commission's frugalness.
Prosecutorial judgment, says Gordon, is one of her top skills. That judgment helps recognize which defendants need to be locked up and which don't. This is especially important at a time when but cutbacks at the judicial branch limited the time available for jury trials.
In about 95 percent of cases, defendants plead guilty or no contest, said Gordon. The remaining cases that go to trial are always more difficult, she said. Among her proudest accomplishments is winning a case, which sent a man to prison for 40 years to life. The man was convicted of sneaking into a North Conway home and stabbing the family members nearly to death. Just recently, her office earned two sexual assault convictions. One case was based in Wolfeboro and the other in Tuftonboro.
"We've got a good track record and it's not about sending everyone to jail," said Gordon.
However, Republican challenger Dewhurst says he can do better. Dewhurst served as a Conway police officer from 1981 to 1987 and has been a lawyer since 1987. After getting a law degree from Franklin Pierce Law Center, Dewhurst has served as a prosecutor for Jackson, Carroll County Attorney's Office, and the Dover Police Department. He has also represented municipalities and the county government. He founded the Law Offices of Thomas Dewhurst in 1988. Running a business for over 20 years has given him a lot of budgeting experience, he said.
He questions Gordon's judgment and says her office seems to be bringing cases to juries without having enough evidence to land convictions.
"It's not good," said Dewhurst of Gordon's record. "This fall there have been a number of cases that ended in mistrials or not guilty verdicts."
As an example, he cited the case of Gary McNiff who was acquitted of leaving the scene of an accident that killed a woman in 2007. McNiff's defense was he thought he hit a moose or deer and not a hitchhiker.
According the Carroll County's 2009 annual report, Gordon's office handled 1,264 cases last year. Twenty-three trials ended with guilty verdicts. Three-hundred-and eight ended in guilty plea agreements and two cases ended no contest pleas. In contrast, 26 trials ended in not guilty verdicts. Twenty cases were dismissed.
"That's a lot of cases being lost," said Dewhurst.
If elected, Dewhurst promised that he'd identify holes in cases before they went to trial. Dewhurst also stressed that judgment is important at this time when severe budgets cuts reduced time for jury trials by a third.
"We're going to have to prosecute cases more effectively," said Dewhurst.
In contrast, Mincu said he had no comment on Gordon's performance, adding that a prosecutor's effectiveness is subjective.
Dewhurst said he'd maintain a strong relationship with local law enforcement and the greater community with an "open door" policy.