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Bar News - September 18, 2009

Top NH Prosecutors Trod Similar Paths


John Kacavas was sworn in as US Attorney for the District of NH by US District Court Judge Joseph Laplante. The careers of the judge and the prosecutor have been intertwined since both started at the same law firm 19 years ago. And both share roots with Michael Delaney, the new NH Attorney General – who followed a similar career path.
Last month, John P. Kacavas was sworn in as the new US Attorney for the District of New Hampshire at the federal building on Pleasant Street in Concord. Less than two weeks later, just a few blocks away, Michael Delaney took office as NH Attorney General.

That both should take office so close together in time and place is appropriate, as Delaney has, in a way, been following Kacavas up the ladder of the prosecutorial ranks in the state. They have had many of the same mentors, and shared
Kacavas: Crime Policies Will Change
By Krista Glencross

What changes will the US Department of Justice see under the Obama Administration?

John Kacavas, just a few days into his new job as US Attorney for New Hampshire, said the new administration will bring a "smarter fight" against the war on drugs, and make better use of resources in tough economic times.

Among the changes in direction Kacavas expects during the next few years are:
  • Scaling back harsh mandatory minimum sentencing on drug offenses, allowing judges the use of more discretion on a case-by-case basis.
  • Reducing the large disparity in mandatory minimums on sentencing for offenses involving powder versus crack cocaine.
  • Greater use of alternative sentencing for non-violent drug offenders; Kavacas cited the success of Drug Courts in Grafton and Strafford counties.
  • A return to the Assault Weapons Ban originally established under the Clinton Administration.
  • Decriminalizing marijuana in states that allow its use for medical purposes; however, this does not mean that the federal government will support legalizing marijuana.
the major formative experiences in the law.

Both attorneys started their legal careers at the Wiggin & Nourie firm in Manchester, and both served as chief of the homicide bureau in the NH Department of Justice.

Kacavas, 48, was admitted to the Bar in 1990, after obtaining his law degree from Boston College; when he went to work for Wiggin & Nourie, he was hired at the same time as another NH lawyer and prosecutor, Joseph N. Laplante, who last summer was appointed to the US District Court. In 1993, Kacavas went from Wiggin & Nourie to the Attorney General’s office.

In 1996, he earned the distinction of being the first recipient of the NH Bar Foundation’s Robert E. Kirby award, given to an attorney 35 years old or younger, recognizing superior advocacy skills and exceptional civility. By 1998, Kacavas was made chief of the homicide unit. In 1999, he left the AG’s office for a special assignment, working with attorney Laplante on a Department of Justice Campaign Finance task force, before returning in 2000 to the Wiggin & Nourie firm. In 2002, Kacavas founded a law firm with Michael Ramsdell and Mark Howard.

In 1994, Delaney, a Massachusetts native, received a law degree from Georgetown University and was hired by Wiggin & Nourie. Like Kacavas, he, too, was lured to the challenges and intensive trial work of prosecution and was hired by then-Attorney General Philip McLaughlin. In 1999, he joined the criminal bureau where he worked alongside Kelly Ayotte, his predecessor as Attorney General. They worked on a number of high-profile cases, including the double-murders of Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop.

In 2004, when Ayotte was named Attorney General, she promoted Delaney to First Deputy Attorney General, and in 2006 Gov. Lynch tapped Delaney to join his office as legal counsel.

Given their tenure in the Attorney General’s office working on major crimes, both men tout their connections and familiarity with law enforcement officials around the state as essential to their jobs. And, of course, their familiarity with each other. "We are going to work very well together," Kacavas said.

"This office has deep connections with local law enforcement," added Kacavas, referring to his plans to meet with police chiefs of the larger communities as he begins his tenure. "We will maintain a highly visible office and are looking forward to being a resource for them."

"I’ve known John Kacavas for my entire legal career," said Delaney. "I have a high degree of confidence in him and I am looking forward to working with him."

At press time, that collaboration became evident in disclosures that both Delaney and Kacavas had agreed to review evidence in the 2003 death of a Massachusetts boy in the White Mountains – a death ruled accidental at the time, but disputed by the boy’s family, who believe he was murdered.

Neither man indicated major changes in the offing for their agencies, but both signaled some new areas of emphasis.

Kacavas indicates that the US Department of Justice under US Attorney General Eric Holder is intent on waging a "smarter" war on drugs, which includes greater exploration of sentencing alternatives and advocacy of changes in the sentencing guidelines that limit judges’ discretion, and can lead to onerous sentences for drug offenders. Nevertheless, he says the enforcement priorities will remain "gangs, guns, drugs and child pornography." Newer areas he identified include potential fraud in health benefits payments and stimulus spending, and identity theft.

Delaney leaves the governor’s office after a particularly bruising budget session when the state’s economy was suffering. The challenges of a difficult economy will continue to be a focus for him as the state’s chief legal officer, and chief law enforcement officer.

"There are unprecedented challenges facing the citizens of our state, and these place growing demands on our system of justice and on all officers of the court," Delaney said. Shortly after taking office, Delaney’s Justice Department helped the Labor Department respond to the sudden shutdown of Precision Technology in Pembroke, helping to assert the rights of laid-off employees under plant closure legislation, and filing a motion to ensure they were paid their last paychecks.

In working with state government departments, Delaney said the Attorney General’s Office is trying to innovate in an era of extremely tight budgets. The Justice Department is collaborating with at least two other departments, Insurance and Banking, to pool resources to provide targeted prosecutorial help for these regulators facing a rising tide of white-collar crime, Delaney said.

Delaney also faces the task of "vigorously defending" the decision of the state to include in the budget surplus funds paid for medical malpractice coverage from the Joint Underwriting Agreement that the state had created, funds that the insured health care facilities claim should be returned to them.

Delaney relishes his return to the office where he has spent much of his career. The Attorney General’s office has not changed much during his three-year absence, said Delaney. "Its greatest strength is its people – there is a mix of new attorneys representing the state, along with veteran attorneys who have represented the state for a long time. There are many familiar faces, and there are some new faces."

Kacavas says his new role as US Attorney is to serve as a leader, policy-maker and administrator. While he’s excited about that challenge, there is a twinge of regret that he’s no longer on the front lines. "I will definitely miss going to court," Kacavas said. "I became a lawyer to do trial work. I will just have to live vicariously through the lawyers in this office."

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