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Working out of a temporary office on North Street, District Attorney-elect Andrea Harrington is putting together the team she feels is needed to bring criminal justice reform to the Berkshire district attorney's office.

Harrington Prepares to Take Over District Attorney's Office

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If Andrea Harrington wants to make the reforms to the criminal justice system that voters elected her to make, it is going to require the right team of staff members.
 
And that's what Harrington has been spending her last month or so looking to build. The district attorney-elect defeated incumbent Paul Caccaviello in the November election and since then has been focusing on finding people she believes in to take leadership roles in the next incarnation of the district attorney's office.
 
"The people who voted for me voted for me because they believed in the vision that I articulated. In order to enact that vision, we need to have the right team in place to do that and supports that. We are building a team that supports the vision of the campaign that people voted for and that will necessitate some changes in the office," the Richmond Democrat said. 
 
"That being said, there are a lot of wonderful, dedicated public servants in the district attorney's office who want to remain and will continue to do that work. It is going to be a mix of people who have the institutional knowledge and experience of the office and people who are coming with different experiences and different perspectives."
 
She brought on the well-respected Francis X. Spina, retired associate justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court, to help smooth the transition from Caccaviello to Harrington. Spina is a Pittsfield native who served in the Berkshire County district attorney's office, then as a Superior Court and an appeals court judge before taking the bench on the Supreme Judicial Court.
 
"He has an interesting perspective because he helped put together [former District Attorney] Tony Ruberto's administration after he won his race in 1978. And he's been a Superior Court judge, an appellate judge, he's been on the SJC, he really has a very high level of expertise in terms of criminal law. He was also very involved with the board of bar overseers, so he has a lot of expertise around ethical issues," Harrington said. 
 
"We have been looking at the organization structure of the office. We've been looking at what Dave Sullivan does in Hampshire and Franklin County because he has a different kind of organization structure that supports what I would call a more progressive vision for the office."
 
At the same time, she brought on Karen Bell to oversee Superior Court cases. Harrington had put feelers out to the legal community that she was looking for a strong prosecutor and Bell's name was routinely mentioned. 
 
"Immediately we clicked. Karen has been a prosecutor for 20 years. She is in the homicide division in Hampden County. She has some specialization in cold cases. And she has a reputation for being a tough prosecutor but very fair and completely ethical," Harrington said.
 
"Her approach to discovery is to have open discovery, defense counsel is free to review her files. Maybe there will be an argument about what is admissible at trial but in her view, it is not up to her to tell the defense what is relevant to their defense."
 
Harrington particularly cited a case that Bell had dropped because she didn't feel the defendant was guilty. Harrington described her as not having a "win at all cost mentality." 
 
Bell started working inside the current district attorney's office this week and is preparing to take over Superior Court cases in January.
 
Harrington said her transition team has been working with the Caccaviello's team and the court on January's trial list to make sure the office is prepared to pick up the cases immediately. 
 
"She's looking at the cases and really planning for January for what is going to be on the trial list," Harrington said. "There has been a high level of cooperation which I am grateful for."
 
On Wednesday, Harrington announced her next two leadership hires. Richard Dohoney and Jeanne Kempthorne will be joining the staff as deputy district attorney and chief of appeals and legal counsel, respectively.
 
Dohoney is a Berkshire native with 18 years of litigation experience. He is currently with Donovan, O'Connor & Dodig and serving as the city of Pittsfield's city solicitor. Kempthorne worked 11 years in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston as part of the major crimes unit, economic crimes unit, and chief of public corruption and special prosecution unit. In 2005, she was appointed to the state Ethics Commission. She also worked 25 years in a private practice specializing in appellate and post-conviction.
 
Harrington said while Dohoney has a solid resume in law, it is his Berkshire roots and passion for the community that really stands out.
 
"We share the same values in terms of what we believe the district attorney's office can be and how we can positively impact this community," she said. "We both grew up in this community. We both decided to raise our families here. And we both are really committed to public service and wanting to see this community thrive and be a place our kids will want to return to."
 
Dohoney's job is somewhat of a new role. In looking at the organization structure, Harrington has identified areas to change responsibilities and roles. Dohoney will lead district court and juvenile court prosecutions but will also take on administrative duties previously handled elsewhere in the office. 
 
"There will be some new positions and some positions that are just a little bit different than they were before," Harrington said.
 
Dohoney will take on stronger roles in developing policies of the office and making sure the staff is following those. She compared those tasks as being similar to a managing partner of a law firm. Dohoney and Kempthorne will also be responsible for implementing many of the new initiatives.
 
Much of the administrative duties being taken were handled by Frederick Lantz, who served in both an administrative capacity and as the official spokesman. Harrington said the spokesman aspects of the job is going to be even more focused into a communications and community outreach position.
 
"It is essential to communicate with the community what the district attorney's office is doing. That's part of our accountability. We want to try new approaches and people need to understand what we are working on and what we are doing. It is critical for the district attorney to be engaged in all aspects of the community so we can work together on problems," Harrington said.
 
"We will really have somebody focused on communications. We'd do social media. We will do newsletters. We will have an annual report so we can communicate with the public."
 
Kempthorne, meanwhile, brings a specialization in ethics and a passion for criminal justice reform, Harrington said. She said Kempthorne has the ability to anticipate problems ahead of time and has shown a strong interest in helping implement diversion and restorative justice programs. Harrington feels Kempthorne's ethics background will help ensure trust between the district attorney's office and the community.
 
"Jeanne is really committed to criminal justice reform and trying new approaches. That's what attracts her. This is an opportunity to build a new office and really have a new approach to criminal justice. That's what pulled Jeanne here to this position," Harrington said.
 
Those new office leaders bring different perspectives and that's what Harrington believes will make the office stronger. She said she's looking to find a balance between people like Dohoney and the prosecutors in the office that have local perspectives and institutional knowledge with those like Bell and Kempthorne who can bring new ideas and perspectives from other areas to the Berkshires.
 
The next focus is to fill out the district court ranks.
 
"We are working on hiring district court ADAs. With the transition, they are understaffed right now. We are looking to bring in new talent there, different experience levels. We really want to go to a vertical prosecution model in the district court, which they just haven't been able to do because they don't have enough staff to do it," Harrington said. 
 
"That's where the same ADA handles a case from beginning to end. Right now the way it is staffed is if you are in the primary session you handle the arraignment, discovery motions, motions to suppress, pre-trial hearings, and then it moves up to the jury session and actually tries the cases or pleas them out. As an attorney, you have a sense of ownership of your cases and to plan your strategy, you need to work on them from beginning to end."
 
Filling out the staff and building her team that will take over on Jan. 2 has taken up most of the focus for Harrington. But she has been delving more into bringing those ideas talked about during the campaign and fine-tuning the details to implement them. 
 
Internally the new leadership team will be prioritizing the implementation of those programs while Celia Clancy, the former chief executive officer of Country Curtains, was brought on to bring a community aspect to the development. Clancy is being asked to meet with community members and organizations and focus on initiatives to bring racial justice and diversion programs to life. She'll be looking at the various models of those ideas and getting buy-in from the community.
 
Harrington herself has been continuing to dig into new concepts. She recently attended a conference in Houston with 18 elected district attorneys from across the country. There she attended workshops and lectures on bringing about a more modern criminal justice system.
 
"It was a great opportunity to build a national network of peers who have the same kind of values and vision for what a district attorney's office should be. There are resources that are available to me, to us, to Berkshire County, that I'll be able to take advantage of," Harrington said.
 
One of the more intriguing lectures she heard was regarding ways to curb gun violence and she said that is something she'd like to be aggressive on in Berkshire County. The conference included management training, talks about communication and hiring, and the importance of having the right people in the right jobs.
 
For now, Harrington is hoping to hire for as many jobs as she can because she wants as much of the staff who will join her in the efforts to reform the office to be sworn in together.

Tags: criminal justice,   district attorney,   

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