Paul Caccaviello for district attorney

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Editor's note: This editorial  was corrected to note the proper spelling of the district attorney's name. 

Even the most seasoned political observers may have difficulty remembering the last time a countywide Berkshire political race has been as heated and competitive as the race for district attorney. The departure of a veteran incumbent and the presen.ce of so many issues — from crime and punishment, to crime prevention, to justice reform, to new ideas versus old — has given Berkshire County a memorable race that stirred a vivid and needed debate.

For this, we thank District Attorney Paul Caccaviello (who was appointed DA by Governor Baker last spring when the incumbent, David Capeless, retired), Andrea Harrington and Judith Knight. One of them will be elected district attorney on Tuesday.

Ms. Harrington and Ms. Knight have battled for the label of most progressive candidate, with Ms. Knight asserting that she has fought that fight since 2006 when she first ran for district attorney against Mr. Capeless. Ms. Knight, who earned recognition for her part 13 years ago in the defense of Great Barrington youths charged with drug offenses in what The Eagle regarded as an overzealous prosecution, argues for drug education and treatment programs and a lesser a focus on incarceration except when clearly deserved. She cites a varied courtroom background, including five years as a prosecutor.

Ms. Harrington has placed a strong emphasis on cracking down on domestic violence, an area in which she believes the DA's office has long been deficient. Like Knight, she advocates a preventative approach to crime while promising to be tough on those who commit crimes, and promises to bring transparency to the DA's office while pursuing community-based solutions to crime that are in use elsewhere in the state.

As an attorney, however, Ms. Harrington has a modest track record compared to that of Ms. Knight. Should another triple-murder case emerge in the Berkshires, neither Ms. Harrington nor Ms. Knight has the experience necessary to give residents confidence that the case will be handled with maximum efficiency and expertise. We also don't know based on their backgrounds that they would be effective administrators of a district attorney's office.

In fact, the Berkshire District Attorney's Office is already doing many of the things that Ms. Harrington and Ms. Knight advocate for, such as instituting drug diversion programs and working with mental health professionals to help individual drug addicts and seeking a broad solution to the opioid epidemic in the Berkshires. This is in part through efforts on Beacon Hill, such as recently instituted criminal justice reforms. If voters think the Berkshire District Attorney's Office will be at the forefront of justice reform, they are likely to be disappointed. Those measures are a product of the legislative process.

In her run for state senator two years ago, Ms. Harrington sought to become a part of that legislative process, and her campaign for district attorney has not been dramatically different than her campaign for state Senate. Her progressive credentials are bona fide but not entirely applicable to the office of district attorney, which at its essence is dedicated to determining which cases to prosecute and then prosecuting them in the most efficient way possible.

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Paul Caccaviello has years of experience as a prosecutor, including his service as first assistant district attorney for the past 14 years. He has shown a willingness to embrace the programs and concepts that his rivals have advocated. Along with that experience, however, Mr. Caccaviello carries plenty of baggage, beginning with his inability during the campaign to escape from the shadow of his predecessor.

Mr. Capeless' machinations, as revealed by Commonwealth Magazine, in which he filed for re-election in a bid to throw off the press before handing over the job to Mr. Caccaviello, did his anointed successor no favors. Mr. Caccaviello, who interviewed with Governor Baker last February, a month before the governor appointed him to the position, bristles at the term "old-boy network" in reference to the district attorney's office, but it is arrangements like the one that made him DA going into the election that reinforce that stigma. It would have been more fair if a caretaker DA had been appointed to serve out Mr. Capeless' term.

There is a strong perception in the black community that the DA's office is an enemy and not an ally, and as a key member of the Capeless team, that perception burdens Mr. Caccaviello. At the core of this perception is a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling in 2008 overturning a Pittsfield man's murder conviction in a case prosecuted by First Assistant District Attorney Caccaviello because Mr. Caccaviello used a peremptory challenge to remove the only black woman on the jury. The removal was approved by the judge and the DA's office disputed the SJC's 4-3 ruling. If he is elected, Mr. Caccaviello will have to reach out to a skeptical African-American community as an early order of business.

Both Ms. Harrington and in particular Ms. Knight have experience outside the box of Berkshire County that Mr. Caccaviello lacks. If elected, we urge that Mr. Caccaviello strongly consider first assistant district attorney candidates from outside this county to introduce new concepts and approaches to the office to counter his office's parochialism.

By virtue of his temperament and personality, we believe that Mr. Caccaviello will reach out to disaffected members of the community while dispensing with the bunker mentality that has long afflicted the office of district attorney. We were encouraged in April when, as one of his first acts as district attorney, he dismissed drug charges against hundreds of Berkshire defendants that were tainted by misconduct at the now defunct Amherst Drug Lab. This shows a welcome pragmatism and willingness to move on from lost causes rather than waste time and resources on them.

In choosing candidates to prosecute, a district attorney must do so with the cause of justice in mind, not by the ease in which they can be won. Won-lost records are for the athletic field. We believe that Mr. Caccaviello will make this important distinction when cases come across his desk.

Finally, there is the experience factor. Over a long career any prosecutor will make mistakes, but on balance Mr. Caccaviello has built a reputation as a top-notch prosecutor. There will be no learning process for him to undertake.

Andrea Harrington and Judith Knight have promised to bring a breath of fresh air to the office of district attorney. We agree that breath of fresh air is needed. We also believe that even though Mr. Caccaviello has long been in that office, he will — by virtue of his willingness to embrace new approaches, including a much-needed transparency when appropriate — can be that breath of fresh air. The Eagle recommends Paul Caccaviello as Berkshire district attorney.


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