Sullivan County attorney race puts focus on lack of drug court program

  • Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway speaks about the fifth shooting in Newport, N.H., since Dec. 2018 following the arraignment of Oliver Renehan, of Newport, in Sullivan Superior Court on July 25, 2019, who allegedgly shot his neighbor in a dispute over toy boats in their shared driveway. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News file photographs — Geoff Hansen (left), Jennifer Hauck

  • Heather Deem, of Mount Holly, Vt., apologizes to the 93-year-old woman whose purse she stole in a Claremont, N.H., grocery store parking lot in August 2018 during her sentencing hearing in Sullivan Superior Court in Newport, N.H., on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Next to Deem is her attorney Jay Buckey. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2022 11:31:37 PM
Modified: 10/15/2022 11:32:37 PM

NEWPORT — Marc Hathaway and Jay Buckey often square off against each other in the court of law.

Now they are challenging each other in the court of public opinion.

Buckey, Sullivan County’s chief public defender, is running to unseat Hathaway, the county’s chief prosecutor, as Sullivan County attorney, a position Hathaway has held nearly unchallenged for 35 years.

Hathaway, a Republican, and Buckey, a Democrat, have wrangled numerous times in Sullivan Superior Court in Newport, each trying to sway a judge or jury to his side of the argument. This time they are putting their rhetorical skills to the test in appealing to voters on Nov. 8.

The two courtroom adversaries vying to be elected Sullivan County’s top prosecutor agree on one issue, however: The drug epidemic is both tearing the social fabric of the community and is the a root cause of most cases burdening the criminal justice system, from police to the courts to the corrections system and, finally, probation and parole offices.

But Hathaway and Buckey have radically different approaches on how the county should confront the problem.

Hathaway, first elected in 1986 and seeking his 9th term in office as Sullivan County Attorney, has been a steadfast opponent of what is known as drug court — court-supervised community treatment programs for drug offenders — even to the extent that Sullivan County remains the only county in New Hampshire without one.

He contends the current system in Sullivan County — which pioneered its own in-prison treatment program — works well0 for drug offenders and keeps high-risk recidivists off the streets.

“I believe there is nothing worse than drugs right now. It is destroying our community,” Hathaway said.

Buckey, who has spent nearly his entire legal career working with defendants on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder, argues that Sullivan County’s outlier status in how it prosecutes drug offenders is counterproductive and neither helps the system designed to deliver justice nor addresses the underlying causes of drug offenses.

“Being a public defender, you see a lot of the same people, the same problems, over and over again. But you don’t get to make any change in policy,” said Buckey, 38, a Grantham resident who spent his high school years in Hanover before attending Georgetown University, then earning his law degree in 2011 at what is now the Vermont Law and Graduate School.

As Sullivan County public defender, Buckey supervises an office of three attorneys — each attorney handles a caseload of 60 to 100 dockets at any one time — in both superior court and the county’s two district court locations.

The job has provided him with an up-close look into the pathology of drug addiction and drug-related crime, he said.

“It is frustrating when a parent asks, ‘Can my son do drug court?’ and I say, ‘No, we don’t have that.’ It doesn’t feel fair to my clients. For the right group of people, it does make a huge difference,” Buckey said.

Drug court would provide a court-supervised treatment program that allows the offender to continue living in the community while complying with conditions ordered by the court and accessing treatment and rehabilitative services.

Advocates contend drug courts relieve the corrections department — at core a punitive institution — of the burden of housing inmates who are not considered a danger to the community, and also better administer treatment and testing programs.

“Instead of being in jail, you are in the community and supervised pretty heavily. You’re able to be a parent, have a job and if you get into trouble, there are consequences,” said Buckey, who estimated that drug offenses or crimes in which drugs are an underlying factor represent a “plurality” of the cases his office handles.

A drug court program would also free up resources to focus on domestic assault and sexual assault cases, Buckey argued, adding that such cases have been historically challenging to prosecute because of the stigma attached to them and victims’ complicated relationship with their abusers, who may be family members, husbands or boyfriends.

As a result, sometimes the cases are not pursued as vigorously as they should be, according to Buckey.

“It’s not just pushing for longer sentences but making sure those cases get the investigation and resources they need,” he said.

Nonetheless, the county attorney cannot unilaterally establish a drug court. It would notably require the buy-in of the county commissioners, who most recently tabled the idea in 2018, among others.

Yet without the county attorney’s support, the issue is a non-starter.

A thumbs-up for establishing a drug court is unlikely ever to come from Hathaway, who acknowledges his office, when it comes to people facing drug charges, has a reputation for “being pretty aggressive on bail. We probably ask for people to be detained more than the other (county attorney) offices.”

Hathaway, 67, of Newport, grew up in Connecticut and went to Muskingum College in Ohio and law school at University of Toledo. Afterward, he was attracted to the Upper Valley because he had spent summers at his parents’ farm in Unity and opened a law practice in Claremont.

Initially taking work as a contract public defender for the county, Hathaway later served as assistant to late longtime Sullivan County Attorney Ed Tenney before running in 1986, at age 31, to succeed Tenney upon his retirement.

Hathaway opposes creating a drug court. It “targets the wrong population,” he said, adding that he believes those offenders “whose record and underlying offense would warrant them going to prison.”

Instead, Hathaway cites what he says is the success of the county’s Transitional Re-entry and Inmate Life Skills (TRAILS) program, a House of Corrections-run 90-day rehab program for inmates followed by monitoring and work release back into the community.

Keeping the offender in prison for three months while he or she participates in “intensive” rehabilitative program and passes through a series of benchmarks is less risky and has a lower re-offending rate than providing those services on the outside, Hathaway said.

“I don’t say drug court is horrible. It’s just not as good as what we have,” Hathaway said. “I don’t think we should be creating off-ramps for people headed to prison.”

Hathaway, after 35 years in the job — more than twice as long as his predecessor Tenney — could easily retire (one logical candidate for the job would have been Hathaway’s deputy, Justin Hersh, who recently was appointed as district court judge). But Hathaway said he is seeking another term to oversee the repeal of the “felonies first” program that in 2024 will shift the filing of felony cases from superior court to the district court level, where they originated before the program was adopted in 2015.

“We’re going to have to push resources back to the circuit court, and I want to be here for that,” he said, explaining that staff prosecutors will be handling arraignments and probable cause hearings once again in the lower court before felony-level cases are elevated to the superior court.

In the only other contested race for Sullivan County positions, Kathleen Eames, D-Charlestown, is facing Rodd Ward, R-Newport, for the position of register of probate.

Unopposed are Republican incumbents Sheriff John Simonds, District 2 Commissioner Ben Nelson; District 3 Commissioner George Hebert; Register of Deeds Janet Gibson; and Treasurer Michael Sanderson.

John Lippman can be reached at or 603-727-3219.

Sign up for our free email updates
Valley News Daily Headlines
Valley News Contests and Promotions
Valley News Extra Time
Valley News Breaking News

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy