NH AG finds changes needed in how Manchester prosecutes domestic violence cases
MANCHESTER — An investigation by the Attorney General's Office into Manchester City Solicitor's Office Domestic Violence Prosecution Unit revealed significant concerns about mishandling of cases, which prompted a special meeting on Friday with city officials and the Assistant Attorney General to discuss solutions.
The initial investigation by the Attorney General's Office began due to Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard's concerns over the lack of prosecution in domestic violence cases. Willard and the Manchester Police Department asked the AG's Office to investigate the matter and provide solutions.
In a statement given Friday about the issues, Willard said, "The Manchester Police Department has devoted a tremendous amount of resources into the investigation and prevention of domestic violence crimes. [...] The inability of the City Solicitor’s Office to successfully prosecute these offenders to the fullest extent of the law is troubling. Their repeated failure to address our expressed concerns made it necessary for me to ask the Attorney General’s office for a review of their prosecutorial practices."
After the investigation, the AG's Office sent a letter to the Office of the City Solicitor, published online by Manchester Ink Link, regarding the findings of the investigation stating that "the City Solicitor's Office has failed its mission and corrective action is necessary. On (Friday), we will meet with the leadership of the City Solicitor's Office to discuss corrective actions to include potential terminations."
In the letter, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald explained the reasoning behind the remarks about the DVPU's failure to protect domestic violence victims and prosecute effectively.
On April 21, during the examination of the DVPU's performance, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Wolford attended a trial prosecuted by Manchester City Solicitor Domestic Violence Prosecutor Andrea Muller, observed Muller's performance, and documented "a number of significant concerns with Attorney Muller's trial advocacy."
In addition, Associate Attorney General Jane Young and Wolford, working at the City Solicitor's Office, reviewed 66 DVPU case files which concerned domestic violence charges dismissed by Muller.
"We identified several significant concerns about the handling of DVPU cases ... Chief among those concerns were the DVPU prosecutor's competence as a litigator and the DVPU prosecutor's seemingly arbitrary, excessive, and unchecked use of conditional nol pros (CNP) agreements to resolve domestic violence cases," Young wrote.
According to Young, a CNP is a resolution where the prosecutor dismisses all the charges, as long as the defendant follows a specific condition. It does not require an admission of guilt, either. However, since the DVPU can't enforce the conditions, "the CNP is a meaningless case resolution."
Additionally, three specific cases included in the CNP files gave the AG office concern that "litigating competency to stand trial was an area of weakness for Attorney Muller."
Although Muller recently finished a five day training program for trial advocacy, the AG remained concerned that the City Solicitor's Office had not taken "meaningful action with regard to the CNP cases" which they were told to do in Young's letter.
To address the concerns discovered during the investigation into the DVPU, MacDonald provided six directives with deadlines to complete them. City Solicitor Clark must take immediate actions following the proposed resolutions "under the stringent supervision of the Hillsborough County Attorney."
The six solutions were as follows:
- The DVPU prosecutor (Andrea Muller) was supposed to immediately review every one of the 66 CNP cases and take appropriate action, including refiling charges if necessary, by June 21.
- By July 20, the City Solicitor's Office must reassess its policy in regards to CNP agreements being used to resolve cases. If the office decides to continue its use of CNPs, it needs to develop a written protocol.
- By July 20, the Manchester City Solicitor will set up written protocols for the DVPU's management of her cases, including requirements for significant oversight, a weekly DVPU meeting, better record-keeping, and litigation/domestic violence training.
- By July 13, the DVPU prosecutor must maintain professional case files with checklists of included materials and a form to assess the merits of each case.
- The DVPU prosecutor must continue attending litigation and domestic violence training seminars.
- By July 14, the DVPU prosecutor must discuss with the Attorney General's office about refiling charges on a specific, undisclosed case.
In a joint statement by Mayor Ted Gatsas and Chairman of the Board of Aldermen Pat Long released Thursday, they addressed the findings of the AG's examination.
"What has been outlined through the investigation by the Attorney General's Office is unacceptable, it is inexcusable, and it will not be tolerated by the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen."
On Friday, Clark submitted his retirement to Gatsas and asked to no longer handle administrative duties of the office. He will retire July 31.