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County Attorney looks back over 12 years in office

CARROLL COUNTY ATTORNEY ROBIN GORDON, who will leave office at the end of this month, stands in front of the former Carroll County Courthouse, where she began prosecuting county felony cases in 1999. (Mellisa Ferland photo) (click for larger version)
December 23, 2010
OSSIPEE — After a dozen years of serving as the county's top prosecutor, Carroll County Attorney Robin Gordon will leave office at the end of the month after losing her re-election bid to Atty. Thomas Dewhurst, III.

What a difference 12 years makes. When she was first elected and for several years, her office was located in the alms house attached to the old county jail. There were holes in the floor and pigeons in the ceiling. She had one assistant attorney to help prosecute most felony-level criminal cases in the county and her position was the only department head in Carroll County government to be part-time by statute with no benefits.

Now, her office and staff are in the second floor of the county administration building with plenty of room. There are three assistant county attorneys, the victim-witness program coordinator, and two office staff.

And finally, after asking for equal treatment every year at budget time, the county delegation agreed to change the county attorney position from part to full-time status. Even though Gordon had been putting in full-time hours all along she was finally getting benefits. Hers was the last county attorney position in the state to change to full-time status. It is unclear whether or not the delegation also changed the status in the law books.

County attorneys are responsible for prosecuting all felony-level cases except for first and second degree murder and high profile white collar crime which are done by the state attorney general. Police departments put together the evidence and information and bring it to the county attorney's office. The cases are reviewed for thoroughness and the decision is made to either move forward to seek grand jury indictments or whether to reduce the charges or dismiss the cases altogether.

Even with the cases that don't go forward, every month the grand jury ends up approving a stack of felonies that have enough supporting evidence to warrant prosecution. That's when the real work begins for the staff in the county attorney's office as victims and witnesses are guided through the legal process, court document filing rules must be strictly followed and some cases, especially where defendants have health or competency issues, have dragged on for a couple of years before being settled.

The state's budget cuts in the court system hinder the work of prosecutors as well. "It's tough to do justice when you have to wait three months because of court budget cuts," said Gordon, "justice delayed is justice denied."

Gordon was born in Massachusetts and moved to Manchester in high school. She started her career as a juvenile parole officer at the state industrial school. She applied to Franklin Pierce College and was accepted and gained her law degree. She worked for legal assistance in Berlin, where she discovered a love for the courtroom. She was hired by the law firm Melendy and McCarron in North Conway for criminal and court-appointed defense work in Carroll and Coos Counties. However, she grew tired of the lack of willingness or ability of the accused to take personal responsibility for their actions and was soon hired by the Coos County Attorney as an assistant attorney. When former Carroll County Attorney Carol Chellman decided not to seek re-election, Gordon took the chance and won the election, defeating Stanley Hawthorne. That was 1999.

For years she ran unopposed for re-election. Two years ago, there was a write-in campaign for Dewhurst and though he did get enough votes to be on the Republican ballot, he declined the nomination. This past November, as Republicans swept races throughout Carroll County and unseated all democrats, Gordon also lost her job.

Gordon is proud of guiding the department into the 21st century and keeping the annual budget on track. "We have been very fiscally responsible here. We don't spend more than we need," she said.

When asked what she plans to do with her newfound free time, Gordon replied, "Little bit of this and little bit of that…private practice work – not jumping into anything. I have a good reputation with people and that's what will keep me afloat."

She admits she will miss her "great staff" and enjoyed working with area law enforcement officials. "I've had a great relationship with police. I've probably had disagreements with nearly every department at some point but that's the nature of the job. By and large I have always had an open door policy so they could come here with questions or for advice," she said.

"I will miss her terribly. She has been a great help. Her door is always open, sometimes many times a week if needed," said Ossipee Det. Sgt Robert King, who handles criminal cases for his department.

Dewhurst will continue to oversee his private law practice in Conway while overseeing the work of the County Attorney's office in Ossipee. New Hampshire law allows for the Carroll County Attorney to practice civil law but not criminal law outside of the elected office. Delegation members were urged at their meeting earlier this month to look into and draft policy that will protect the county from any accusation or litigation that may arise from Dewhurst holding both jobs. Dewhurst said at that meeting that he doesn't foresee the chance of any conflict of interest issues.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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