|DA Candidates Tout Experience, Results at Primary Debate|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
05:19AM / Tuesday, August 16, 2022
|The district attorney candidates make opening statements on Monday night at the primary debate at the Berkshire Athenaeum.|
Andrea Harrington, who became the county's first woman district attorney four years ago, is running for re-election on her record of progressive justice reform.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The candidates for district attorney didn't hold back on Monday night as they each made their cases as the best choice in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary.
Incumbent Andrea Harrington touted the systemic changes she's made in the office during her 3 1/2 years in office while challenger Timothy Shugrue stressed his decades of experience on both sides in the courtroom during the sometimes heated debate.
The hourlong event, sponsored by Pittsfield Community Television and iBerkshires.com, drew about 100 supporters and community members to the Berkshire Athenaeum. The district attorney's race will be determined in the primary as there are no Republicans on the general election ballot.
The candidates answered a dozen questions from a panel made up of Josh Landes of WAMC, Brittany Polito of iBerkshires and Shaw Israel Izikson of the Berkshire Edge
The candidates had the chance to ask each other one question. Harrington asked Shugrue where he was in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing.
"Like many, I attended rallies and publicly call for reform. I never saw or heard from you," she said. "Why after two years with an election three weeks away, have you never stated your position on systemic racism within the criminal legal system?"
Shugrue said he and his wife had made their feelings known on Facebook.
"It was an awful thing that we saw and we all had to view it and observe it," he said. "And I was clear about that. I've always been clear about the racism that was existing throughout the country."
Shugrue asked Harrington about three significant trials she had been involved in, related to a question at a previous forum. Harrington responded the question has been about cases not trials.
"Everybody knows that you have 36 years of experience. Everybody knows that you have more experience in the courtroom than I do," she said. "What I am is I'm a leader in the office."
Harrington said she'd hiked the budget by 21 percent, added 39 new staff members, increased the amount of diversity in the office and prosecuted more child abuse cases.
"We have built trust with communities who are distrustful of law enforcement," she said. "I have worked to bring in new resources for our local law enforcement so that we can combat crime and prevent people from being victimized by crime."
Challenger Timothy Shugrue is a veteran defense attorney who also worked as an assistant district attorney.
Shugrue countered that she'd lost her only Superior Court case.
"The DA's office is not the place for on the job training, especially by the person at the top," he said, later adding,
"We need a district attorney that has experience that's been in the game that knows what happens on a daily basis for people in the court system. We need a district attorney that can help people out when they need them. Not someone who's just talking about policies and philosophies."
Harrington said the role of district attorney wasn't just about experience.
"There are some very experienced lawyers on the Supreme Court who have reached the pinnacle of their career and yet they made decisions to take away the rights of women to reproductive health care," Harrington countered. "So just in and of itself, having experience doesn't mean that you're going to fulfill the vision and values of the people of this community."
Both agreed against the prosecution of lower-level cases
Harrington: "my office has made huge changes by not prosecuting those low level cases that really are are driven by mental health issues, substance use disorder and poverty."
She added that a Suffolk County study found half of low-level cases that were dismissed did not return to court within a two-year period.
"I think that this really focuses on the issue that we really need to have dash cams, we need to have a body cameras," said Shugrue. "I think that's very important that the protects the police and it protects the communities."
What would you do to solve racial disparities in the local justice system?
Harrington accused Shugrue of following the so-called "broken windows" policy of policing minor crimes.
"All the study shows that broken-windows policing has been devastating for black and brown people in this community and across this country. has led to mass incarceration," she said. "That is not what this community is going to go back to in the district attorney's office."
Shugrue denied categorically that he supported "broken windows" and that he had been a die-hard, true-blue Democrat since 1978.
"Make no mistake about it. Tough, effective prosecution can coexist with criminal justice reform. They go hand in hand," he said.
Addressing gun violence
Shugrue said he's seen too many reductions of minimum mandatory sentences, including for one person last year now charged with murder.
"That to me is a one of the biggest reasons I decided to get into this race is because we need to crack down on gun violence," he said. "Our police officers aren't safe on the street."
Harrington disputed Shugrue's comment and said her office uses a two-pronged effort: first dealing with immediate gun threats and second, take a systematic approach as to why young people are carrying guns, such as intervention programs through local service providers.
Shugrue said the reason was drugs and that prosecutors shouldn't be reducing sentences or accepting pleas.
"We can't tolerate gun violence in our community. Fifteen shootings since February is not acceptable to me," he said.
Harrington said, "that's just simply not true. My office very aggressively prosecute the gun cases here in Berkshire County."
Mental health and addiction
"We do not have the correct kind of structures in the court system. We don't have the correct kind of tools outside of the court system. We have done our best to use the tools that we have in hand," said Harrington.
The incumbent said her vision was different from Shugrue's in that mental health issues and addiction should be treated public health matters, and not through incarceration.
"My goal is for the district attorney's office to responsibly handle those cases when they come into the courts and to advocate for more mental health services in the public health system," she said.
Shugrue said he knew firsthand about issue from dealing with his own clients as a defense attorney and said he would advocate for a mental health court similar to one in Springfield.
"I think it's important that number one issues we should highlight and start talking more about mental health. It's not something we should be afraid of not usually turn our heads," he said.
Relationships with law enforcement
Shugrue is being supported by a number of current and former police officers and recently endorsed by the State Police Association of Massachusetts.
"I have a great relationship with every single chief of police in this county," he saaid. "I have a great relationship with all the men and women that have blue that have helped us out in our community for so long."
Harrington said it was OK for the DA's office and law enforcement to have different political opinions but their relationship has been professional and collaborative.
"It's not necessarily, you know, a healthy thing for the district attorney and police to be hand in hand because I don't represent the police," she said. "I don't represent the courts. I don't represent the judges. I represent the voters of this community who elected me."