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Jeanne Kempthorne: I worked with Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington. Here are the 7 biggest reasons I'm not voting for her

In 2018, I supported Andrea Harrington for Berkshire district attorney. In January 2019, she hired me as her chief of appeals. One year later, I quit in protest. I’m supporting Tim Shugrue for district attorney, and I want Berkshire County voters to know why.

I’m a progressive Democrat. I have worked with Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Alliance and the Justice for MA Coalition. I have worked as a prosecutor and a defense lawyer in state and federal court. I accepted Andrea Harrington’s invitation to work for her because I believed she would pursue the progressive values she espoused and that I share. I was wrong.

Before Harrington took office, many experienced prosecutors, deemed insufficiently loyal, were told to leave. Others quit. Among leadership, only the first assistant district attorney and I had experience in government service as prosecutors. Harrington herself had minimal trial experience, no prosecutorial experience and no experience managing a government office.

Instead of hiring experienced, competent people to fill those gaps, Harrington appointed unqualified, inexperienced campaign supporters and friends to fill key positions and relied on “special” assistants from other counties to carry the workload.

On inauguration day in January 2019, Harrington’s immediate tasks were clear: Triage the emergencies and glue herself to the chair to learn the job; right the foundering ship; provide leadership and improve morale; hire and train assistant prosecutors; build a team committed to a new vision of criminal justice; implement the no-cash-bail policy; begin work on juvenile and adult diversion policies and programs.

That is not what happened. Rather than immerse herself in the nitty-gritty of her new job, she went on vacation and then on a boondoggle to tour Portugal’s drug-treatment program. Leadership meetings focused as much on enemies and the press as on the difficult challenges the office faced in accomplishing its mission. Huge amounts of energy were spent figuring out how to keep her patronage hires out of trouble.

Several of Harrington’s more appalling acts of unprofessionalism and lack of judgment have been reported, such as her indictment of two foster parents for manslaughter and her preposterous attempt to have Judge Jennifer Tyne removed from hearing criminal cases in Berkshire County. Less well known are her failures to implement the kinds of criminal justice reforms she touts and her mistreatment of staff:

• In July 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union urged her to support a moratorium on the use of facial recognition software while more research was done to determine its impact on racial profiling. (By 2018, reported data had shown that the software misidentifies Black female faces 35 percent of the time.) After consulting with the State Police, Harrington refused.

• When Harrington unveiled to great fanfare a juvenile diversion program on the steps of the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires in 2019, the program was far from ready. For months, Harrington had delegated the program design to her former campaign manager who had no skills, training or experience in juvenile justice. (A draft provision calling for restitution from juveniles was laughable.) Months were spent reworking it. Harrington herself provided little guidance. From the outset, the program was seriously understaffed: one part-time employee, still in school and with minimal professional experience. Urgent complaints from community program providers and the juvenile court probation office were frequent. Within months, overwhelmed, the staffer left.

• Harrington delegated the development and leadership of the domestic violence fatality task force to her former campaign manager, who had no legal qualifications for such a post.

• After Judge Tyne struck the testimony of a “drug recognition expert” in an operating-under-the-influence case, Harrington did not issue a clear policy against the use of DRE evidence, despite its lack of scientific foundation.

• While Harrington did indeed adopt and implement a no-cash-bail policy, the use of dangerousness hearings to hold defendants pretrial has gone up dramatically.

• Harrington has not only favored political associates and personal friends over experienced professionals, she has treated many employees, particularly women over the age of 50, very badly, firing or demoting people without warning or performance improvement plans.

• In 2020, WGBH in Boston awarded Harrington one of its sarcastic “Muzzle Awards” for her ignoble actions undermining free speech by instructing the office’s records officer — me — not to produce required public records to The Berkshire Eagle. In protest, I resigned. Within days, I was approached by the Suffolk DA’s Office, headed by the progressive Rachael Rollins, and eventually served in that office’s new integrity review bureau, reviewing past murder convictions for miscarriages of justice.

Unlike larger counties, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is too small to support a neophyte DA who cannot competently try a felony criminal case and is unwilling to roll up her sleeves to implement major policy changes effectively. The citizens of Berkshire County cannot afford to indulge the extravagant delusions of a careerist. Harrington simply does not have the necessary skills and experience for the job and she has demonstrated little, if any, interest in acquiring them.

Experience, competence and integrity matter. Tim Shugrue understands how the criminal justice system works — and how it fails. He is someone the staff can turn to for advice and leadership without fear of retribution. He has the confidence of his colleagues in the legal community and the courts. He has the best interests of the people of Berkshire County at heart — not his own. He deserves your vote.

Jeanne Kempthorne was the chief of appeals and public records officer in the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office until she resigned in early 2020. She later worked as a special assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office integrity review bureau. She is retired and lives in Pittsfield.

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