In Facebook post, Berkshire DA blames NY snafu for license suspension


PITTSFIELD — Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington went on Facebook late Tuesday to say she paid a fine for a speeding ticket in New York directly to that state's Department of Motor Vehicles, but the court where she was cited never learned of the payment, and resulted in a suspended license.

The DA and her office didn't respond Tuesday to a reporter's requests for comment, but she took to Facebook after The Eagle published the report — that she had been driving with a suspended license for nine months for not paying the ticket — and blamed the situation on that bureaucratic snafu.

In her social media post, she said she first learned that her license had been suspended this past Sept. 1. On that day, she was pulled over by a Pittsfield police officer for driving the wrong way on a one-way street in what appeared to be a rented vehicle. The officer gave her a verbal warning, but did not cite her.

It's unclear why she was driving a rental. Questions about the rental and who was paying for it went unanswered Wednesday by Andrew McKeever, public information officer with the DA's Office. The Eagle asked Tuesday for the reason and amount of any such expenditures.

And McKeever would not respond to any questions Wednesday, saying in an email that they have "nothing to do with the work the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is doing on behalf of the county’s citizens."

It was some citizens that first raised the alarm that the DA might have received special treatment from Pittsfield police.

According to her public driving record obtained by The Eagle, Harrington was cited for speeding June 10, 2019, in the town of Clinton in Dutchess County, N.Y. Her license was suspended on Nov. 24, 2019, for failure to respond to the citation.

Harrington's license was reinstated on Sept. 4, three days after the Pittsfield traffic stop.

In her Facebook post, Harrington said she had paid the ticket with "a couple hundred dollars to the State of NY," but did not say when she had paid the fine.

"Rather than contest the ticket at a hearing, I took responsibility and paid my ticket online to the NY RMV," she wrote. "However, the NY court apparently did not know that which triggered MA suspending my license which I was not aware of. Once I found out, I got the correct paperwork to the MA RMV who restored my license. It did literally take 7 hours on hold with the MA RMV over the course of two days."

The timing on events surrounding the suspension remains unclear.

Darren Boysen, a spokesman for the New York state Department of Motor Vehicles said Wednesday that the agency does not collect fines for traffic violations; those would be paid to the town where the violation occurred.

"The suspension for failure to answer a summons was cleared in March," Boysen said, "and subsequently DMV sent a clearance letter to the state of Massachusetts."

But Harrington's Massachusetts record shows her license was not reinstated until Sept. 4.

A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday was not able to confirm whether the agency sent out a suspension notice, but the RMV website said it typically sends such notices to drivers that allow them 10 days from the date of notification to clear up outstanding issues.

The clerk at the Clinton Justice Court did not respond to requests for information Wednesday about when Harrington paid the fine, and other details of the initial traffic stop.

Verbal advisement

Also unclear is why Harrington was not cited during the Sept. 1 traffic stop and whether the officer allowed Harrington to drive herself away on a suspended license.

Out of 32 motor vehicle stops in Pittsfield that day, 30 drivers received citations. Two drivers, including Harrington, were let off with verbal warnings, according to the Pittsfield Police log.

A police spokesman on Monday said he did not have information about why Harrington wasn’t cited or charged with the moving violation and driving while her license was suspended. He also did not provide information on Wednesday about the details of Harrington's stop, nor answer to requests to speak to Police Chief Michael Wynn.

Wynn did not return calls seeking explanation or comment.

A spokesperson from the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission said that he could not discuss specific situations, but explained that the "conflict of interest law generally prohibits any public employees from using their position to obtain an unwarranted valuable privilege for themselves or someone else."

The commission investigates such cases; the state Office of the Attorney General enforces any criminal aspect.

In her Facebook post, Harrington said The Eagle's story was the result of a "tip" from a "local right-wing blogger and assorted cranks," and inspired by sexist leanings.

The post set off a cascade of comments from supporters who saw it as a "hit job," as one put it, and noted that motor vehicle agencies are notorious for making such errors. Others wondered whether police treated her differently because of who she is.

"People with fewer connections than you or more melanin often experience much more severe consequences for the things you made into such a droll anecdote and maybe calling that out isn’t automatically lock-her-up level sexism," wrote Michael Hitchcock.

Helen Moon, a city councilor and former employee of the District Attorney's Office, recounted an incident in Boston in which she also was caught driving with a suspended license.

Moon, who said she also was unaware of the suspension, said police pointed a gun at her and threw her in jail. She spent over $1,500 for towing costs, court and registration fees.

"Must be nice to be a white woman and district attorney when encountering the police," Moon wrote.