Letter: Experience is critical in choosing a DA
I write as an experienced criminal trial lawyer having worked as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney and having tried major felony cases in Brooklyn, N.Y. and in Berkshire County. This letter reflects my personal opinion regarding the candidates for district attorney.
The race for the position of district attorney will be decided in a Democratic primary on Sept. 4. The district attorney is the chief law enforcement officer for the entire county and all voters in Berkshire County should vote.
The district attorney is also the chief prosecutor of cases against those accused of crimes. Unlike many elected positions, being a district attorney requires a particular skill set. A partial list of the court-related responsibilities of the DA include overseeing criminal investigations and advising police, drafting of search warrants, presenting felony cases to the grand jury for indictment, determining appropriate criminal charges, actually conducting trials, overseeing trials and making sentencing recommendations.
There are three candidates for D.A. of our county. Two of those candidates have the requisite experience to do the job, Judith Knight and Paul Cacciaviello. I have serious concerns regarding candidate Andrea Harrington's lack of experience for this extremely important and demanding job. Her campaign literature states she has 15 years of extensive criminal experience. In the context of the position of D.A., the most necessary criminal experience is trial work. Prosecuting and or defending a critical mass of criminal trials teach the lawyer the many skills that cannot be learned otherwise. The most important of these skills is how to assess a case.
A review of public records, obtainable by any citizen, reveals that candidate Harrington's trial experience is minimal. She has never been a prosecutor and as a defense attorney she has never tried a criminal case or handled a criminal case in Superior Court, which is where serious felony matters are tried. Her sole trial experience consists of a mere eight trials (five of which were OUI cases) at the lowest level trial court, District Court, between 2011 and 2016. Eight trials in five years, that's the sum total of her criminal trial experience.
By contrast, an assistant district attorney staffing the District Court trial session may very well try eight cases in eight weeks. Without the varied and extensive criminal trial experience she will not be able to competently oversee her staff or have the ability to assess the value of a case. There is much at stake here: the lives of the accused and the victim as well as the safety of our county. Who will be running the show?
While this is an elected position, it is not a political game. It is not enough to recite from the progressive playbook of how to run a DA's office. I agree that there is room to improve the criminal justice system but ideas that are not rooted in experience are mere words.
The election is fast approaching. Voters should research what is required of the district attorney, go to a forum to critically listen to the candidates and vote on Sept. 4.
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