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The Berkshire District Attorney's primary is two months away. Here's what you need to know

Harrington and Shugrue.jpg

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, left, and Democrat challenger Timothy Shugrue will meet for a pair of forums in August.

PITTSFIELD — Two months from now, two Democratic candidates to lead the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office will ask voters for their support.

Facing voters at the Sept. 6 primary is a decision to reelect Andrea Harrington, who has recommitted herself to a reformer's platform, or to give local defense attorney Timothy Shugrue a chance to — in his words in March — “reinvigorate the office."

The dueling Democrats find themselves on either side of a big tent party.

Harrington represents a group of prosecutors who pursue policies that prioritize racial and gender equity in law enforcement. Shugrue represents the sector of the party that believes there’s still value in longstanding prosecution practices which often result in a “tough on crime” stance.

“This election is about standing up to those who want to pull us backwards,” Harrington says in a campaign ad distributed in May. “Keep faith in the progress we are making, keep faith in your neighbors and keep faith in the belief that we are all entitled to fair treatment and dignity.”

The Harrington campaign maintains a running list of accomplishments it cites as proof of forward progress. Among the tally is the start of a formal juvenile diversion program for nonviolent and low-level offenses and Harrington’s role in guiding the development of a county task force specifically for domestic violence and sexual assault.

Her opponent and critics are taking aim at some of her most liberal stances — work Harrington has been most vocal in backing.

Shugrue is challenging Harrington’s part in a national movement to reduce the prevalence of cash bail in the justice system, a practice that falls heavier on poor defendants than rich ones.

“Even as a defense attorney, I can tell you, bail can be warranted in certain cases,” Shugrue told The Eagle last month.

Another cornerstone of Harrington’s campaign this year is the reduction her office has made in prosecutions of shoplifting, prostitution, some motor vehicle offenses and the possession of “personal use” amounts of drugs. The DA said these cases are down over 50 percent since her election.

“We have ended the criminalization and over-prosecution of minor offenses,” Harrington said at her campaign launch. “We prosecute those who are dangerous, we prosecute those who deserve it, but we provide paths to treatment for those that need it, and we totally remove the criminal justice system entirely when it causes more harm than good.”

Shugrue has a different approach — one he calls “sweating the small stuff.”

“I don’t believe in not prosecuting thefts,” the longtime Pittsfield defense attorney said to supporters during his kickoff event in April. Shugrue has said that instead of dismissing cases before they reach the courthouse, he’d increase the use of pre-trial probation programs — systems he calls “diversion programs.”

“These are the people who need a break,” Shugrue said at the event. “You give them a chance to give back, to get clean, to get a job and at the end of that time if you do that your case will get dismissed.”

“But the bad guys still need to be prosecuted,” he said.

Shugrue has said that along with greater use of pre-trial probation, he wants to increase the prosecution of drug crimes and gun violence. He said in a social media post in June that increasing these prosecutions would be his way of working towards a “safer housing, more economic opportunity, and a general improvement in the quality of life” in Berkshire neighborhoods.

Candidates with deep Berkshire roots

The Shugrue family moved to the county in 1973. Shugrue attended Taconic High School and later received his law degree at the Western New England School of Law. He started his career at the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office in Springfield.

In Hampden County, Shugrue worked as an assistant district attorney prosecuting child abuse and sexual assault cases. His focus on crimes impacting children continued as he joined the Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office as an assistant district attorney in 1991.

Shugrue helped cofound the Berkshire County Kids’ Place and Violence Prevention Center in the early 1990s, a child advocacy center that works with domestic violence survivors. In 1994, Shugrue opened a private law practice at 205 South St. in Pittsfield. His office handles family and criminal defense cases.

Shugrue and his wife live in Pittsfield and raised their three children in the area. Shugrue’s wife, Joann, is serving as the attorney’s campaign manager.

Harrington was born and raised in Richmond. She’s settled in her hometown and is now raising her two sons in the area alongside her husband, Tim.

A Taconic High School graduate, Harrington received her law degree from American University’s Washington College of Law. She began her career working on commercial and civil litigation for a firm in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.

Harrington’s time in Florida included a two-year stint working on post-conviction appeals for death row inmates. When she returned to her home state she continued her criminal defense, but added civil and commercial law work to the mix. Harrington worked first in Great Barrington and later in Springfield. She worked most recently at the firm of Connor & Morneau LLP.

Before her time as district attorney, Harrington engaged in community politics. She served as a member of the Richmond School Committee, the town's Affordable Housing Committee and co-founded the Berkshire Committee of the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus.

In 2016, Harrington ran an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate seat previously held by Benjamin B. Downing, after the five-term state senator decided not to seek re-election. She lost in the primary to state Sen. Adam Hinds.

Both candidates are familiar with the kind of politicking that comes with a district attorney’s race.

In 2004, Shugrue challenged David Capeless after the latter attorney was appointed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney to fill a vacancy in the office created by the passing of Gerard D. Downing the year before. Shugrue, who ran then on a campaign to “take back the streets,” lost that race when he garnered 24 percent of the vote.

Harrington faced off against two opponents, both Democrats, in her 2018 campaign for DA: Judith Knight and Paul Caccaviello. She won the fall primary with 39 percent of the vote, but in a surprise move faced Caccaviello again in the general election when the former first assistant district attorney launched a write-in campaign. Harrington eventually won the general race with nearly 63 percent of the vote.

So far the Shugrue campaign is the better funded of the camps, with $52,625 in cash on hand per the last campaign finance report in June. Harrington’s campaign reported $14,750 cash on hand.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6149.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

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