Candidate Andrea Harrington says what she brings is the ability to inspire change in an office she doesn't believe has been serving the community well enough.
BECKET, Mass. — Rebecca Moulton had a restraining order against her then-boyfriend David Vincent in 2009 and she had left the apartment the pair shared.
Later she was found beaten to death in that apartment.
Paul Caccaviello was the first assistant district attorney at the time and took the lead prosecution and he kept coming back to one question, "why was she there?"
And the answer was because Vincent had threatened her pet bird.
Vincent was ultimately convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in jail. The pair had been involved in the local drug culture, there was a history of domestic abuse, and there was now an aspect of animal abuse — a wide array of aspects going into the prosecution that was all somehow linked together.
It is the case Caccaviello said he continues to come back to when he tries to determine how to handle the prosecution of other cases or how to work with victims. It's why he is supportive of not only a domestic violence unit but a unit that is also linked to the animal abuse unit and linked to the child abuse unit. He sees how all of those various aspects can tie together and he uses the experiences he's had to determine the best way to move forward on a case-by-case basis.
"This is the case I draw from," Caccaviello said.
He told that story at Becket Town Hall on Tuesday in another debate when all three candidates for district attorney were asked for one specific case that stood out for them.
Caccaviello, the handpicked successor of David Capeless with some 27 years of experience, doubled down on his experience during the debate, which has been his major talking point throughout the campaign. In answering questions, Caccaviello leaned heavily on that experience — that what he's been doing for years has led him to have the right judgment and decision making qualities to be the county's chief prosecutor.
"I am the only professional prosecutor sitting at this table," he said.
But what has his time in the district attorney's office actually done for Berkshire County? His challenger Andrea Harrington questioned the effectiveness of the office Caccaviello has been working in.
The defense attorney from Richmond said overdose deaths have risen from just a few per year to 38 from 2002 to 2016. North Adams has the highest crime rate per capita, with Pittsfield following in ninth place, and Berkshire County has a 23 percent higher rate of restraining orders — and an increased number of domestic homicides than in other places in the state.
"There is a huge opportunity in the district attorney's office to take a new approach," Harrington said.
Harrington said the office has been based on a "pitbull prosecutor mentality" and it hasn't worked. Harrington said she'll prioritize a new approach to get the lower-level offenders out of the court system and into treatment and social programs, work with community partners on prevention programs, and "go hard" on sexual assault, child abuse, and domestic violence.
"We need to have somebody with good judgment and good values, who can distinguish between people who belong in jail and those who need help," Harrington said.
Harrington and Caccaviello have been going at each other in a similar fashion for months, and the political maneuvering has gotten nasty in what is expected to be a tight three-way race. But that nastiness didn't show its face in Becket on Tuesday, though some were certainly expecting fireworks. The two more experienced attorneys were quick to pounce on Harrington when she seemed to stumble on felony arraignments, but no one mentioned the report that there had been political maneuvering to try to push one of the two women out of the race.
Judith Knight portrays herself as the best of both worlds: the candidate with both experience and a progressive agenda.
As Harrington and Caccaviello have been fiercely campaigning against each other, Judith Knight is finding a niche right between what divides them. She has brought forward progressive platform and but does so with some experience working in a prosecutor's office.
In what was essentially a home game Tuesday night as her supporters seemed to outnumber the others, Knight made her case that while Caccaviello does have experience, he hasn't pushed progressive and newer ideas. And that while Harrington is progressive, she lacks the experience to implement her policies.
The Great Barrington defense attorney has served on both sides of the courtroom — with 30 years in law, five of those as a prosecutor — and says she is the one who can and will put the state's new criminal justice reform bill into practice on the local level.
The case Knight keeps in mind is when she represented Kyle Sawin, a teenager who was part of 19 others arrested for selling marijuana on school grounds in Great Barrington. She said the district attorney's office, the same one Caccaviello works in, came down hard on the kid and tried to enforce the mandatory minimum sentence of two years in jail.
She said that while he had some problems to deal with, jail wasn't the answer. She got him acquitted.
"If he had gone for a two-year mandatory minimum, I don't know where he would be today," Knight said.
She believes in getting treatment for people who need it rather than sending them to jail. She believes in eliminating mandatory minimum sentences. She believes in bail reform. She said there are plenty of ways to reform the criminal justice system and introduce new ideas but the former Capeless administration didn't do it.
It was 12 years ago when she put all of those ideas into a platform and challenged Capeless for the district attorney job but was unsuccessful. Now, the state has passed a criminal justice reform bill bringing forth those ideas and there is an appetite for it.
While she challenged Caccaviello for his lack of taking on progressive ideas in the past, she also took a shot at Harrington saying she hasn't been dedicated to bringing these ideas to the district attorney's office in the past — painting Harrington as someone seeking any elected office because she had run for a state Senate seat just two years ago.
"I'm not a politician and, unlike Mrs. Harrington, I have not run for another office and will not run for another office," Knight said. "Look at my history — 12 years ago I was fighting this fight and I am still fighting this fight."
All three candidates have voiced support for the state's criminal justice reform bill. All three are supportive of diversion programs. All three approve of bail reform.
But Harrington said she has the leadership qualities that the others don't have. She has the ability to inspire.
"I like to build things," Harrington said, highlighting her efforts to build a statewide practice in which she is not only working on all types of cases — from civil lawsuits to consumer protections to family court to criminal defense — but also doing the marketing, working with other attorneys, and handling the business aspects.
She pointed to what she's built as a campaign with a strong enthusiastic group of supporters and putting in the effort to knock on doors, meet people, and build a coalition around her ideas. She said she is "hard-charging and aggressive."
And that's what she says she brings to the office — momentum and dedication to the ideals of the criminal justice reform.
If Harrington wins the Democratic primary on Sept. 4 — the election which will decide the next district attorney since there are no challengers on the November ballot — she'll head right to work on Sept. 5 to start "building a modern district attorney's office."
Harrington said her first task will be to create a transition team consisting of people within and outside of the current district attorney's office. It will include community leaders and meetings with staff. She'll find out the staff member's interests and how they can support the organization and craft plans to best utilize them. She said clearly define the mission of the office and start enacting everything she's talked about in the campaign.
By Sept. 5, 2019, she said she'll expect a formal diversion program enacted, a citizens advisory board created, and communities will have a lot more resources for crime prevention and treatment programs.
Caccaviello, now the district attorney, said he's already started that and he's already updated the office's website and is developing a Facebook page to provide more "reasonable transparency."
He said his next task will be to create a hate crime program, he'd like to expand the existing community outreach program which gets into schools and teacher life and leadership skills. And he wants to bolster the office's collaboration on tackling the opioid issues.
"There are courses where essentially they are giving our a skill set to our younger generation to make critical decisions," Caccaviello said of the outreach programs.
Knight's first day will focus on going through the paperwork of cases and staff already there. She'll have criteria for what circumstances would make somebody eligible for a diversion program, implement one, and work to settle all of those cases with the program. She'd work with putting staff members in areas which best suit them.
Paul Caccaviello continued to emphasize that he has the most experience in the office.
Next, she'd be looking at drug seizure money and start looking to dedicate that money toward helping bring more drug treatment services to the county and to use some of it to help build a community center in Pittsfield.
Caccaviello said he'd "lead by example," when asked about his management style and he said he encourages younger prosecutors to use the veterans prosecutors as a resource and as someone who can answer questions. He said the office has a very effective program bringing in the newest attorney's into Pittsfield District Court where there is the most help from others, then to North Adams, and then to Southern Berkshire.
"I will lead by example. I currently carry a caseload," Caccaviello said, adding that is what he is currently doing as he directly managed the superior court staff for 14 years at the first assistant district attorney and now the district attorney — a job he got when Capeless stepped down early to allow Caccaviello to run as an incumbent.
Harrington said she'll set high standards for staff. She said in her 15 years of practicing law she's realized "how incredibly challenging and incredibly stressful" the job can be at times. She'd create a positive work environment for the prosecutors and be honest with them.
"I treat people the way I want to be treated. I want people to be honest with my performance," Harrington said.
She also supports bringing a more diverse skill set, experiences, and backgrounds to the office.
"We get much better decision making and outcomes when we have diverse groups of people making decisions," she said.
That diversity of experience is what Harrington said she brings to the table. In law school, she was inspired to go to Florida and work on death row cases. In the appellate court, she was going through every aspect of a completed case and basically reinvestigating each case. She looked for the false eyewitness, false confessions, examined if there were issues with the evidence.
In one case she found a man with schizophrenia who had been convicted and she went back and got records dating back as early as preschool and documented "an incredibly abusive homelife." That case is the one that stuck with her as it shows that a lot of money is going toward imprisonment when sometimes the person needs a different type of service to treat the cause.
"We could see how this unfolded and led to a tragedy. Those cases have stayed with me and have stayed with me my entire career," Harrington said.
Knight has some diversity in her experience herself. Not only was she a prosecutor in Middlesex County, where at one point she managed the Jury of Six, and then a defense attorney, but she also spent time managing Blantyre. She said the owner of the luxury hotel was terminally ill and asked her to run it and sell it. She managed more than 70 employees and was able to keep the hotel operating, kept the employees on board, and sold it as a hotel and not for developers to become condominiums.
She said she'd manage employees in the way she was trained, by trusting them, expecting that they are there for the right reasons and ensuring that everybody understands it is a team approach. And she'd implement an inherent bias training program to help increase understanding of diversity.
If you want things to change, you need something different. That's Andrea Harrington's view when it comes to reforming the criminal justice system. And now, she wants to be that change. She is seeking election as the next district attorney following the retirement of David Capeless.
For Paul Caccaviello, the district attorney's job is a call to service. After 14 years as the first assistant district attorney, Caccaviello is looking to fill the shoes being left by David Capeless, who retired. With some 30 years as a prosecutor, Caccaviello said he has the most experience and qualifications to take over the office.
Judith Knight isn't a natural politician. She's an attorney. She's a defense attorney who has spent years on the other side of a courtroom from a district attorney's office that operated in a way that she doesn't think is for the best. Back in 2006, her frustration boiled over when she watched the district attorney's office prosecute a teenager over minor drug charges and she launched a campaign to take over the office.
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