CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire House Republican leader’s resignation and admission over the weekend that he falsified law school reports casts GOP leadership and the party in a bad light, and voters could take out their irritation at the ballot box, political observers said Monday.
Representative D.J. Bettencourt announced Sunday he was resigning from the Legislature immediately while admitting he had misrepresented legal work he performed for another legislator while attending the University of New Hampshire School of Law.
Matters came to a head over the weekend after Representative Brandon Giuda, Republican of Chichester, called on the 28-year-old Bettencourt to resign, accusing him of fabricating law school records indicating he completed a semesterlong legal internship at Giuda’s office despite working there for only one hour.
The hullabaloo will give Democrats ammunition in November’s elections, fueling the party’s assertions that the GOP has pushed issues state residents don’t favor and that leadership has been problematic and dishonest, said Andrew Smith, a University of New Hampshire political science professor.
‘‘Democrats will use that as a campaign argument against Republicans broadly,’’ Smith said. ‘‘As a broad principle, they’ll say it’s time to go in and clean up Concord.’’
The state Legislature, with 400 seats in the House and 24 in the Senate, is overwhelmingly Republican. The governor, John Lynch, is a Democrat.
Bettencourt, in his Friday announcement that he would step down from the Legislature on the final day of the session, June 6, said he had just graduated from law school and was about to get married and begin a new job as executive director of the New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation, a nonprofit legal advocacy group. He said it was time ‘‘to move on to the next exciting phase of my life.’’
The announcement angered Giuda, who had met with Bettencourt and House Speaker William O’Brien, Republican of Mont Vernon, earlier in the day to talk about the misrepresentations Bettencourt had made to the law school. The three agreed Bettencourt would announce he was resigning due to ‘‘personal problems.’’
After Giuda saw Bettencourt’s resignation announcement, he threatened to make the law school records public unless Bettencourt resigned immediately.
Giuda said Monday he agreed last winter to let Bettencourt work for him in his one-person home office for a legal internship to meet his requirement to graduate from law school. Bettencourt agreed to work every Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the semester but ended up working only one hour in total, Giuda said.
Giuda said that after he saw that Bettencourt had participated in the law school’s May 19 commencement in cap and gown, he obtained the internship records and learned that Bettencourt had submitted to the university 11 weeks of reports — with details such as court hearings, meetings, and talks with clients that had never happened — giving him the credits he needed to graduate.
‘‘When I saw those, I got a pit in my stomach,’’ Giuda said. ‘‘This wasn’t just cheating. This was premeditated at the same time he’s standing at the podium castigating other people on ethics.’’
He said he forced Bettencourt to resign because of his deception, not his politics, and his party affiliation didn’t matter.