NH AG notes improvements in Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office

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Michael Conlon

MANCHESTER, NH — After 10 months supervising the day-to-day operation of the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald announced Monday that he is terminating that oversight effective immediately.

He cited improvements made in the office, through joint efforts of county and state prosecutors, including the implementation of plea agreement reviews; development of procedures for policies, case intake and assignments;  ongoing training and professional development for assistant county attorneys, and implementation of liaison with the Manchester Police Department.

State prosecutors also worked with Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon and his staff on issues raised by law enforcement agencies and crime victims.  They also assisted in presenting indictment to the grand jury.

In a letter to Conlon, MacDonald said Associate Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin will continue to be available to him at any time – day or night — “to assist with issues relating to prosecution or office management.  I hope you will continue to draw on Attorney Strelzin’s exceptional experience and expertise.  (Senior Assistant) Attorney (David) Rotman will be present in your offices at least two days per week to provide ongoing support and training to your assistants,” he wrote.

MacDonald also said he strongly encouraged Conlon’s ongoing efforts to address staffing shortages by filling vacancies as quickly as possible.

“I also encourage and support any effort to advocate for additional personnel, including prosecutors in your office.  We continue to encourage you to hire an experienced prosecutor to assist with the management of the office on a day-today basis as well as to supervise, train and assist the assistant county attorneys with pretrial litigation and trial procedure.  If I can be personally helpful in advocating for these additional resources, I stand ready to assist you,” MacDonld wrote.

Conlon, who is seeking reelection, said the attorney general’s announcement was good news for the office and for public safety.

“I am pleased absolutely,” he said.  Conlon said he welcomes whatever support and assistance the attorney general has to offer.

It is unlikely, however, that the county will be budgeting any additional prosecutors for his office, he said, because of COVID-19  and the economic uncertainty.   He had requested additional attorneys when he proposed his budget before the coronavirus pandemic.

MacDonald’s staff began supervising the office last September after several controversial cases.

That month, MacDonald asked the embattled Conlon to resign amid an uproar over lenient sentences negotiated for the parents of a 20-month-old toddler, who died after ingesting cocaine in the couple’s Hevey Street apartment.

Joshua Garvey, the father, pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and was given a 10 to 20-year sentence, with five years suspended on the minimum if he successfully completes a specific self-help program.  If he does, he will serve only five years.

Christen Gelinas was not charged in connection with her child’s death. Instead, she was charged with trafficking cocaine and fentanyl, and common nuisances.  She received a total sentence of 8 1/2 to 17 years and forfeited $12,423 to the Manchester Police Department.

Police learned of the negotiated pleas on social media which infuriated Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano.

At the time, Conlon said he acted swiftly internally after learning of the situation.  Plea negotiations are now reviewed by First Assistant County Attorney Nicole Schulz-Price — before any agreement is reached with the defense.

Just before the Garvey/Gelinas cases, there was another uproar when Damien Seace, 35, a self-described Nazi, was charged in the July 23, 2019 beating death of Jennifer Burpee, 45, inside her apartment at the Henry J. Pariseau hi-rise.

On Oct. 29, 2019, Seace was arrested for second-degree assault after telling “J.B.” he was going to murder and bury her as he put his hands around her neck and strangled her, according to court documents on file in Hillsborough County Superior Court Northern District. The charges were later dropped but the court file didn’t indicate why.  Conlon said the charge was nol-prossed because Burpee recanted.

Nine months later, Seace allegedly beat Burpee to death with a piece of furniture.

When Conlon took office in January of 2019, the attorney general was completing a review of the office under his predecessor Dennis Hogan.  Conlon has said when he became county attorney the office was in a state of crisis “with deep wounds from years of neglect.”

MacDonald acknowledged in yesterday’s letter that when he became attorney general in April 2017 his concerns about the prosecutorial functions of the county attorney’s office began to develop soon thereafter. Conlon wasn’t elected county attorney until November 2018, taking office in January of 2019.

In 2017, there were concerns raised about the Manchester City Solicitor’s Domestic Violence Prosecution Unit.  The county attorney is the first level of supervision responsible for the integrity of prosecutions at that level.  Despite that, MacDonald said   Hogan did not exercise the requisite oversight and “this office was forced to investigate and address allegations of mismanagement and mishandling of domestic violence cases.”

In August 2018, law enforcement, the judiciary and advocates for victims of crime contacted MacDonald’s office about serious and sustained shortcomings of the county attorney’s office.











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Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.