Voice of the Faithful
Critical of Vicinanzo Bid for AG Nomination

By Kathryn Marchocki
Union Leader [New Hampshire]
Downloaded February 12, 2003

Gov. Craig Benson will submit his nomination for a new attorney general as planned Thursday despite concerns raised by two advocacy groups about one of his nominees, his legal counsel said yesterday. New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful yesterday asked Benson to reject former federal prosecutor David A. Vicinanzo as a nominee for the post because he recently represented the Catholic Diocese of Manchester in cases involving clergy sexual abuse of children.

"His recent advocacy for the church presents a serious perceived conflict of interest that threatens to undermine the trust of many New Hampshire Catholics in the state's commitment to impartial justice," New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful steering committee chairman Jeffrey Blanchard wrote in a letter to the governor.

The letter follows another drafted Sunday by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national group known as SNAP, expressing its "grave concerns" about Vicinanzo's possible nomination.

That group asked the governor to delay making his nomination to the Executive Council until SNAP leaders discussed the matter with him.

Both groups question Vicinanzo's ability to objectively implement the agreement the attorney general's office struck with the diocese in December because he represented the diocese during the criminal investigation that led to its crafting.

"The governor is not going to delay the process of picking an attorney general," said Kelly A. Ayotte, Benson's legal counsel.

"However, the governor is a lifelong Catholic, he understands the issues involved and is very sensitive to victims of sexual abuse," Ayotte added.

Vicinanzo is one of three candidates being considered for the position, she said.

A standard and well-used practice is in place that requires attorneys general to recuse themselves from issues in which they were involved while lawyers in private practice, Ayotte added.

"If Dave Vicinanzo were nominated to be attorney general by the governor, he would not have any involvement in the issue of enforcing the agreement with the Diocese of Manchester," Ayotte said.

"This is a very common practice that all lawyers are familiar with, that a wall will be set up and decisions will be made with the remainder of the office and the deputy attorney general taking the lead," she explained.

For instance, Philip T. McLaughlin represented teenager Jeffrey Dingman in his murder case while in private practice, but had no further involvement in the case when he became attorney general, said Ayotte, who recently stepped down as chief of the attorney general's homicide unit.

Among the provisions of the agreement reached with the attorney general's office, the diocese will submit to ongoing oversight - including annual audits - by the attorney general's office to ensure diocesan compliance with its terms.

"It's not sufficient to simply recuse (oneself) from cases," said Carolyn Disco, spokesperson for New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group with about 200 members statewide.

Neither SNAP nor NH Voice of the Faithful questioned Vicinanzo's personal character or qualifications.

Manchester attorney Peter E. Hutchins said he worked closely with Vicinanzo in settling nearly 70 cases of clergy sexual abuse of children last fall.

Hutchins said Vicinanzo's sensitivity to his clients' concerns enabled them to reach a settlement promptly without the adversarial legal tactics typically used in litigating abuse cases.

"My view is, personally, it would be the opposite, they would have a person who understands where they are coming from," Hutchins said, adding he received no negative comments from any of his clients about Vicinanzo.

Vicinanzo was a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office for 12 years before joining the private law firm of Nixon Peabody LLP in November, 2000.

He successfully prosecuted the mid-1990s "Code of Silence" Hudson armored car murder and robbery case and, in 1992, the largest child-pornography and obscenity ring ever uncovered in New Hampshire. He also helped establish the federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force about three years ago.


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