In visit, Bump checks on how new DA following through on audit of office
PITTSFIELD — At a meet-and-greet with Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington on Friday, the state auditor learned how the new administration is implementing recommendations made in an audit released this month.
On Jan. 14, Massachusetts Auditor Suzanne Bump released findings from the most recent report of the Berkshire District Attorney's Office. The audit, which was requested by former Berkshire DA Paul Caccaviello shortly after his appointment to that position in March and covered a period from July 1, 2016, to March 31, 2018, noted that some money that had been forfeited from convicted defendants to the DA's office had not been turned over by law enforcement in a timely fashion.
When defendants are convicted of earning money through illegal means, that money often is surrendered to the investigating police department and district attorney's office.
To improve tracking of the money that is due to the DA's office, Harrington, at the suggestion of First Assistant District Attorney Karen Bell, has trained prosecutors to complete a form, at the end of every criminal proceeding, documenting the expected forfeitures. Keeping those requests as part of the criminal case, as opposed to a separate civil proceeding, helps with keeping track of the incoming money, according to Harrington.
"It's a much more efficient process," she said Friday.
Prosecutors also are committed to be selective about the money they seek from convicted defendants, she said. The money is earmarked for purchases, such as software, related to investigations conducted by the office.
"We're not going to take grandma's house because it's where drug dealing took place," Harrington said, as an example.
After a tour of the office, Bump met with staff and commended Harrington for her commitment to improving the office, including having an internal control plan in place to oversee spending and other daily operations.
Dina Guiel, who was active in Harrington's campaign, has been hired as chief of operations, a newly created position to oversee this control plan, Harrington said Friday. She formerly worked as a liaison to Attorney General Maura Healey's office.
Guiel and City Councilor Helen Moon, who worked as Harrington's campaign manager, are among 14 new hires in the office. Moon, who also was in the room Friday, is now the director of special projects for the office. They have been hired at $55,000 and $70,000, respectively, according to state records.
Harrington said that she was grateful that the incoming assistant district attorneys who were hired Jan. 2 have benefited from a statewide salary bump from $46,000 to $56,000 a year.
At full staff, the Berkshire District Attorney's Office has 21 assistant district attorneys. The office still has several openings, Harrington said.
The statewide raises come from a pool of "retention funds" allocated each year by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association in an effort to recruit prosecutors and limit turnover at district attorney's offices.
This year, Berkshire County received $200,000, Harrington said.
Harrington said that while the $10,000 bump was significant, there is still a ways to go to bring the starting prosecutors up to the level of attorneys being hired out of law school at other state agencies.
"Our assistant district attorneys, they're in court every day," she said. "They have very difficult, challenging casework."
Several years ago, Bump's office completed an audit of the District Attorney's Association and looked at whether retention funds were doing what they were intended to.
"We did, in fact, find that the turnover rate is decreasing," Bump said. "We pointed out to the [legislators] that, `You got to keep doing that.' "
In the past year, Bump's office audited juvenile diversion programs — they are intervention approaches that redirect youthful offenders away from the formal juvenile justice system through a variety of supervision programs — at five district attorney's offices in the state.
Berkshire County remains the only district in the state without a formalized program. Harrington is organizing one.
Bump recommended that when the program is created, the office make efforts to implement a system to collect data. Across all state agencies, the two most common issues found during audits is a lack of data collection and a lack of data sharing.
"There are many examples of how agencies could be working better if they were sharing data," Bump said.
For the District Attorney's Office, data are primarily shared through public records requests that are submitted to the office, Harrington said.
Oftentimes in these public records requests, individuals and members of the media are requesting data that aren't already kept by the office, which makes it challenging to respond, Harrington said.
"I'm really looking at how we can improve that," she said.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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