Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Middlesex County DA Forum

I just got back from the Middlesex County DA candidates forum at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. Andy from Mass. Revolution Now was also there, and hopefully he'll share his thoughts as well. The event featured all three candidates for Middlesex County DA, state Senator Jarrett Barrios (D-Cambridge), state Representative Mike Festa (D-Melrose) and former First Assistant US Attorney Gerry Leone.

The format of the event was a question and answer session, where each candidate was asked a different question. I think it would have helped draw a contrast between the candidates if they each had to answer the same questions. That would have made it more like a debate rather than a panel discussion.

First, a couple of impressions. I was impressed by all three candidates, and I think any of them would make a great District Attorney. This was the first time I'd heard Gerry Leone at all, and he certainly stressed his prosecutorial experience. He stressed the role of the DA to speak for those who can no longer do so, and rattled off a list of murder victims whose killers he brought to justice. The implication was that if such a crime ever happened to your family, you'd be glad he was the DA. He also touted his record in increasing diversity during the time he was responsible for hiring at the Attorney General's office and the US Attorney's office.

Leone also said something I didn't expect from him. He was asked about a shortcoming of the current DA's office, and he suggested that if he were DA, he'd have a post 9/11 summit. The problem, he said, was that resources were not being allocated in a smart way since the 2001 attacks, and that there needed to be multi-agency collaboration to improve this. As an example, he pointed out that 2/3 of the FBI agents in Boston are dedicated to anti-terror efforts, and since the total number of agents has stayed the same, there are fewer resources available to investigate other types of crime.

Barrios had to leave early, but he touted his work with the Senate Public Safety and Homeland Security committee. He also stressed that the job cannot be limited to just prosecution, but also needs to address the root causes of crime. That is, it's not just enough to be the DA in the courtroom, but you had to use your influence to reduce the causes of crime. He also spoke out against mandatory minimums for first time nonviolent drug offenders, since if an addict has no opportunity for parole, he has no incentive to enter treatment programs, and is therefore more likely to re-offend.

Festa again mentioned how the DA's job is one that's both professional and political, and he has experience in both worlds. Festa was asked about Criminal Offender Record (CORI) checks, and stressed that law enforcement should have access to those records, but others are not necessarily trained to read them. This can be a problem for non-violent offenders trying to reintegrate into society after they've paid their debt. Festa also was asked about how he would prevent gang violence. He talked briefly about his time in Somerville combatting the Winter Hill gang, and mentioned the importance of community involvement in anti-gang activities. In addition, Festa came out against mandatory minimum sentences, largely for similar reasons as Senator Barrios.

Thanks to the Suffolk Law Dems and the Mass. Democratic future for setting this event up. Hopefully there will be more of these in the coming months. Maybe even some of them in Middlesex County.