By Daymond Steer
OSSIPEE – Carroll County's three new assistant prosecutors say they are here to do good for the community and seek justice for crime victims. Their boss, County Attorney Robin Gordon, is happy with how they are doing.
There has been a complete turnover in the county attorney's office since January. Gordon (D-Tamworth) returned to the office in January. She had served as Carroll County Attorney from 1999 until January of 2011 after she was defeated in the 2010 election. She returned to the office after beating then assistant Carroll County Attorney Steve Murray in the 2012 election.
"It's always a challenge when you have new personnel," said Gordon. "Everybody is getting to know each other. Everybody is figuring out how to work together the best way possible. I think these attorneys are pretty exceptional in their ability to really work together. I've been very pleased with how it's working out."
Two of the three attorneys have some experience. Gordon says that's "something of a miracle."
"There's just no way this office could function if it had three brand new lawyers," said Gordon.
The newest attorney to join the office is Terence M. O'Rourke, 35, of Alton, who most recently came from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Huntsville, Ala., and before that Rockingham County Attorney's Office. O'Rourke started on July 1. O'Rourke missed New Hampshire and looks forward to hunting in New Hampshire. As for being a prosecutor, he described it as being a rewarding job.
"What's great about being a prosecutor is I think we always kind of wear the white hat going into the courtroom," said O'Rourke. "I think we're always the good guy. That's a good place to be at the end of the day. Win, lose or draw, we're on the side of standing up for people."
O'Rourke specializes in white collar crime and is interested in large-scale fraud cases but says he'll take any kind of case that comes to him. O'Rourke got his undergrad degree at Marquette University in Milwaukee and participated in Army ROTC while he was there. After that, O'Rourke went to Tulane University in New Orleans. From 2003 to 2007, O'Rourke was in active duty in the army. O'Rourke served in Iraq during his military service and was awarded a Bronze Star.
While at the U.S. Attorney's Office O'Rourke handled drug and gun cases but he specialized in counter terrorism and counter espionage. O'Rourke worked as a federal prosecutor for over two and a half years.
At Carroll County, O'Rourke has been covering a number of sexual assault cases. He says there is a busy fall trial schedule coming up. He's had one trial so far and it resulted in a not guilty verdict.
O'Rouke said real life prosecuting is not like TV crime shows where the prosecution always wins.
He says the greatest challenge is telling the victims' stories and coveting their feelings and emotions while also explaining the evidence and the law.
O'Rourke replaced Susan O. Boone, who moved to Georgia. Boone won many of the county's largest cases which resulted in lengthy sentences for defendants. For instance, Justin Roy was sentenced to serve up to 50 years in State Prison. A thank-you note from the county attorney's office to Boone praises Boone as being a passionate, dedicated and diligent prosecutor. Boone had been a prosecutor for over 20 years.
"Susan was pretty darn good," said Gordon.
Assistant county attorney Michael H. Brisson, 35, started his work at Carroll County Attorney's Office in mid April. After graduating from the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord 2011, Brisson did a year long fellowship with the Merrimack County Attorney's Office where he had been an intern during his law school career. John Broderick, the dean of the law school, offered Brisson's graduating class a number of public service fellowships.
"As you may have noticed, the legal job market right now is kind of in tough times, so what he (Broderick) did is put together 10 of these fellowships," said Brisson. "He said 'we're going to work with employers in the public service industry and the law school will pick 10 people and we'll pay your salary for one year to go be free help for a public service organization.' I was lucky enough to be picked."
Brisson said he went back to Merrimack County where he spent half his law school career. When the fellowship ended in January, Brisson looked at his options.
"The planets lined up just right and there was an opportunity here," said Brisson.
Brisson moved from Henniker to New Durham for the job. During the transition, Brisson had to live away from his family for a few months.
"It's nice, I like the area," said Brisson.
When asked what he likes about being a prosecutor, Brisson replied, "In a nutshell, I feel like I'm doing the community some good."
Brisson spent most of his life in Wisconsin. Before becoming a lawyer, he worked in the human resources department of a Midwestern home improvement company called Menards but he wanted to do something else. Most of Brisson's family is from New England.
"New Hampshire is a really good place for me to be," said Brisson.
Brisson was co-counsel with O'Rourke on the case they lost. They are reviewing everything they did and are working on how to improve. Most cases are settled in plea deals. Prosecutors have to figure out what's a fair punishment for a defendant. As an example, Brisson said in a drug case, he'll look at the defendant's prior record and what quantity and type of drugs are involved.
"I'm going to treat somebody who had a small quantity of marijuana very differently than somebody who was caught with a rather large quantity of heroin," said Brisson. "About 90 percent of cases plead."
Brisson is seeing a lot of burglary and theft charges, and drugs charges come in second place in terms of the work load he's seeing.
"Often times people who are stealing are stealing for drugs," said Brisson. "They kind of go hand in hand."
Brisson replaced Anthony Mincu. Gordon couldn't comment on why Mincu left.
Assistant county attorney Brandon Garod, 26, of Dover, replaced Murray after Murray left Carroll County for a job as assistant Coos County Attorney. Garod came on board in February after graduating from the University of Maine School of Law. Garod said becoming a prosecutor allows him to use the skills that he developed in law school to do "a lot of good."
"As a prosecutor, you're in a unique spot to really make a significant life-changing impact on people who have been through horrific things," said Garod.
Garod said he's well prepared by the criminal law internships that he's taken during law school. Garod says the job has gone better than expected in that he's been given the opportunity to be in court more than other people in his position would typically get.
"You're instantly entrusted with a lot of responsibility and are expected to essentially conduct yourself like someone who has been here for 20 years," said Garod. "I really like the challenge that poses."
As for legal victories, Garod replied he had a plea deal in which a defendant in a sex assault case was sentenced to two years in the county jail.
"Anytime you get somebody like that off the streets for two years that's got to be considered a win," said Garod. "I was happy with the way that worked out."
When Garod started, he had inherited a lot of cases from previous attorneys. But now, he's gotten to the point where he's starting the cases from the ground up. Garod is looking forward to honing his case-building skills. Garod said the most challenging part of the job is figuring out the best way to present a case to the jury.
"You have 14 strangers from all different walks of life," said Garod explaining about juries.
New Hampshire juries have two alternates.
Garod says as new attorneys, he and Brisson have been working with Gordon and O'Rourke to get feed back and improve their presentation skills. Garod says the best part of the job is winning a sentence that makes the victim feel like justice has been served.
As for that lost trial, Gordon says prosecutors have to put on the best case they can and hope the jury agrees.
"I wish we had the ability to know what people are thinking," said Gordon adding that sometimes it doesn't work out even when the prosecution presents a strong case. "I fear sometimes that 'beyond a reasonable doubt' becomes 'beyond any doubt whatsoever.' Getting 12 people to agree on anything is really difficult in this day and age."
Gordon said she hopes to retain these assistant attorneys. Retention is an issue for county attorneys because some people are "lifers" in the field of prosecution while others do the public service work for a time and then leave for higher paying opportunities. Gordon says the salary ranges offered at her office are now comparable to other county prosecutor offices in the state.
"You don't get into this job to get rich," said Gordon, adding she and her attorneys get satisfaction from fighting for justice.