Winchester, Marlow, Surry and Stoddard are the latest towns to join the regional prosecutor program run by the Cheshire County Attorney’s Office, joining seven other area towns.

“We’re tickled pink,” said Winchester Police Chief Gary A. Phillips. “We’re looking forward to being a part of this.”

The program allows towns to pool resources for several attorneys, who handle misdemeanor and juvenile charges and violations in district courts, and work on the early stages of felony cases before those cases are forwarded to Superior Court.

Before joining the regional program, Winchester contracted most of its cases to attorney William W. Cleary, while most of the other towns sent a police prosecutor to handle cases in district court. A police prosecutor is a police officer who takes a two-week prosecutor training course with the N.H. Police Standards and Training Council, but is usually not a lawyer.

“The prosecutor’s program is run by through the County Attorney’s Office, and that’s an enormous resource, just to have the ability to tap into that knowledge,” Phillips said.

Joining the program also saves the towns the potential hassle of sending police officers to Keene for a day in district court, said Elizabeth H. Cleary, the attorney in charge of the program.

“It’s a very rare morning where one of (the attorneys in the program) isn’t in court handling cases already, and instead of one of the officers coming in from random towns, we can do them,” she said.

Additionally, having certified attorneys handle court cases ensures the best possible service for victims, Phillips said.

“I always felt … that our resources were not anywhere near the people that I was going against,” Phillips said previously. “It was a mismatch. I didn’t feel it was fair to our victims, to the state or the department itself.”

In 2007, when his office took over supervision of the program from the Swanzey Police Department, County Attorney Peter W. Heed hired Elizabeth Cleary as the regional prosecutor to handle district court cases for Alstead, Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Marlborough, Sullivan, Swanzey and Walpole. Troy decided not to continue when the County Attorney’s Office took over, Heed said.

“Our goal is, as we have capacity, bring towns on that are interested without overburdening our services,” Cleary said.

“We’re doing our best to keep the pace at the right level, taking on towns as our capacity allows,” she said.

Though three of the four new members are relatively small towns — Marlow, Stoddard and Surry have a combined population of about 2,500 — the recent spike of interest has inspired growth in the program’s staff, Cleary said.

A second full-time attorney, Jean M. Kilham, is now on board and the program continues to contract work to attorneys William Cleary — Elizabeth Cleary’s father and former assistant county attorney — and Martha Jacques and police prosecutor John J. Dudek as needed. Assistant Cheshire County Attorney David Lauren and Sarah McKenzie Hoskins, a victim advocate, also work for the program.

To fund the program, the participating towns pay based on population and caseload. The funding for the program, — which is budgeted for just under $253,000 for the 2008 calendar year, according to county Finance Director Sheryl A. Trombly — comes from the towns and a federal grant.

“The more towns we have in the program, the more consistent the program will be run for all the towns involved,” Cleary said.

Heed said he hopes every town in the county will be involved in the program in the future.

“We’re going to have to take one step at a time, but we’re very hopeful that that’s going to come up in the future,” he said.

As Phillips sees it, consolidated programs like this are the inevitable wave of the future in law enforcement.

The Monadnock Region already has one other regional prosecutor, Jaffrey police Lt. Richard P. Carpenter Jr., who serves Jaffrey and Peterborough.

“Regionalization is the way things are going in our profession anyway. You’re pooling resources, you’re able to extract knowledge from other people and from the County Attorney’s Office,” he said. “It seems to be the way the state is going to avoid so much duplication of services.”

Sarah Palermo can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or spalermo@keenesentinel.com

Originally appeared in print as "Prosecutor program grows"