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John Pucci: I backed Andrea Harrington's first Berkshire district attorney campaign. Here's why she lost my support

Four years ago, I joined the effort to elect Andrea Harrington as Berkshire district attorney. My interest in doing so was rooted in dismay at the office’s prior administration.

I have watched closely the work of the DA’s Office under Harrington. Whatever one makes of the endorsements she is now announcing from politicians who live outside Berkshire County, her office’s performance on the nuts and bolts of its prosecutions has been woeful.

I have been a trial lawyer for 42 years. I spent 10 of those years as a federal prosecutor. In that period, I ran the U.S. Attorney’s office in Springfield. Among other cases I successfully prosecuted during those years was the biggest armed robbery case in the history of Berkshire County. I know what it is to be a quality prosecutor.

The failures of the DA’s Office under Andrea Harrington to effectively prosecute its major criminal cases have been frequent and noteworthy. Two of the most recent of those failures are telling.

In 2021, Harrington charged Cassandra Barlow-Tucker and Matthew Tucker, of Adams, with involuntary manslaughter alleging that they had, acting as foster parents, recklessly failed to provide basic medical care to a foster child in their care and so were criminally responsible for his death.

The Tuckers faced 20 years in prison if convicted, and suffered the devastating loss of reputation that attaches to those charged with killing a child.

Almost a year later, after conducting hearings and reviewing written submissions from Harrington’s office and the Tuckers’ attorneys, Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini made detailed findings of prosecutorial misconduct by Harrington’s office and dismissed the case against the Tuckers. Judge Agostini is a highly esteemed Superior Court judge. In dismissing Harrington’s case, he wrote a thoughtful 17-page decision which concluded with the stinging comment that District Attorney Harrington’s presentation was “not the standard of conduct the court expects from the Commonwealth in grand jury proceedings.”

The Eagle wrote an editorial addressing the DA’s misconduct in this case and, in less circumspect terms, wrote that “Overreaching to obtain indictments is a dangerous abuse of discretion, but doing so in a case that tries to hold a foster parent criminally responsible for a child’s death is truly reprehensible.” Harrington has now appealed this ruling but has refused to respond to The Eagle’s request on behalf of the public for even the scant details of her appeal.

More recently, Harrington’s office lost a first-degree murder case where the evidence included the video confession of the defendant admitting to the murder. During the trial, the defendant testified that his confession was false and that he had given it only under pressure by police officers. But Harrington’s office chose not to call those police officers to testify and rebut that claim. After the trial, the police involved in that investigation publicly rebuked her office for not calling them as witnesses who could have thoroughly undermined the credibility of the defendant’s claim that his confession was coerced.

If Harrington did not believe the police who investigated the case and therefore would not call them to testify, she should either not have introduced the confession into evidence or not have prosecuted the case at all. If she believed the police, she should have called them as witnesses. At best, her office’s decision-making in this matter is inexplicable. At worst, it is prosecutorial malpractice.

These two cases exemplify the Harrington administration’s poor judgments in major prosecutions. It is fine for Harrington to lean on her progressive values and political endorsements to seek reelection. It is another thing to do the hard work of effectively and fairly prosecuting the real and dangerous criminals in Berkshire County, which is her office’s primary mission. That Harrington has failed to do.

Harrington’s public pronouncements criticizing others who serve in the criminal justice system also deserve some attention.

In May 2021, Harrington wrote a letter to Massachusetts District Court Chief Justice Paul Dawley, stating that District Judge Jennifer Tyne, who regularly presides over Harrington’s District Court cases, was a “significant threat to public safety.” Harrington described some of Judge Tyne’s rulings as “dangerous” and alleged that she engaged in “hostile treatment of victims and prosecutors.” She demanded that Judge Tyne be removed from the bench.

After carefully reviewing the tapes of the proceedings in question, Justice Dawley determined that there was “no factual basis” for Harrington’s allegations; rather, the recordings reflected Tyne’s “careful and thoughtful analysis,” and her rulings were “properly within the bounds of lawful judicial discretion.” Despite these findings and widespread support in the bar for Judge Tyne, including from many former prosecutors, Harrington has repeatedly and publicly stated that she “stands by” her criticisms.

DA Harrington backs indicted Baltimore prosecutor; likely challenger questions commitment to Berkshire County

And in January of this year, Harrington publicly proclaimed a strong but very dubious opinion involving the federal indictment of State’s Attorney for Baltimore Marilyn Mosby. Like Harrington, Mosby was part of a self-styled group of “progressive” chief prosecutors whose mission is to reform the criminal justice system. One day after Mosby’s federal indictment for perjury and other significant felonies, Harrington rose to her defense. Harrington wrote in a since-deleted tweet: “Seeing the justice system used against @MarilynMosbyEsq is scary for those of us taking on the status quo. I have tremendous respect for Marilyn’s leadership and her courage but she shouldn’t have to bear so much. This MLK day, I will be celebrating her.”

In essence, Harrington implied that the federal charges against Mosby were trumped up by the scary “status quo,” which apparently included the United States Department of Justice, which brought the charges, and the federal grand jury that indicted her.

Harrington’s unsubstantiated criticisms of others acting in good faith in the criminal justice system, like Judge Tyne and the U.S. Department of Justice, undermine the public’s trust in our criminal justice system to no good end.

All in all, the people of Berkshire County deserve better from their district attorney — a lot better.

John Pucci oversaw the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Springfield from 1990 to 1994. He is currently a trial lawyer in the law firm Bulkley Richardson, practicing throughout the four western counties of Massachusetts.

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