After Campaigning On Reform, Berkshire County DA Gets To Work
After sweeping into office on a reform platform, the new Berkshire County District Attorney has a lot of promises to uphold.
With months of campaigning behind her, Andrea Harrington is now behind the desk of the Berkshire County DA’s office in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
“The best thing about the transition really has been the staff in the district attorney’s office," said the DA. "People have been incredibly welcoming, incredibly helpful. When we started on day one, with a whole bunch of new people, we had places to sit, we had computers, we had passwords – and a lot of work has been done to make way for new folks coming in.”
During the campaign, she called for modernization, increased transparency, and prosecuting with an eye toward justice and community.
“The first new initiative that we undertook is implementing a juvenile diversion program," Harrington told WAMC. "We have been the only county in the state that did not have a formal juvenile diversion program. Such a program is actually required under the Criminal Justice Reform Act.”
Harrington says that’s not the only blind spot she inherited coming into office.
“I have hired the first Latina assistant district attorney," said the DA. "She’s right now the only person in the office who speaks Spanish, so we are definitely going to be working to recruit a more diverse group of people to work here in the district attorney’s office, and I’ve left some spaces open to give us some more time to do really strong recruitment.”
Another echo from administrations past came in the form of a report from State Auditor Suzanne Bump. It was requested by then-DA Paul Caccaviello after his March 2018 appointment. Released Monday, the report gave the office a mostly satisfactory review – with two exceptions. The first concerned money forfeited from illegal activities like drug deals. The auditor’s office said that law enforcement at times took as long as 780 days to transfer forfeited funds to the DA’s office. Harrington says she is working to remedy the delays.
“We have a data management system, like a docketing system, so we’re going to put a form in there and we’re going to require every ADA to submit a request in every narcotics case that requests that the court find that the assets should be seized by our office as part of the criminal matter," she said. "It just hadn’t been happening before.”
The report also found the Berkshire DA office’s internal control plan – a document that sets out risks and controls for all of the office’s processes – hadn’t been updated since 2016.
“That to me is really central to the mission of the office – because it’s about having a mission statement and having a statement of how that is communicated to the employees in the office, and having specific policies and procedures so that employees understand what the expectations are,” said Harrington.
Harrington says she’s established a Chief of Operations for the office for exactly that purpose.
“That’s a new position in the office, and it’s going to be really that person’s task to start to put together the internal control policies,” she told WAMC.
Harrington says her second in command – First Assistant DA Karen Bell – is hard at work with the county’s superior court cases.
“There are 83 cases on the trial list for January, which is a huge amount – so she’s worked really closely with Clerk Debby Capeless and Justice Agostini to really come up with smoother processes so that there are not so many cases in one month on the list,” said Harrington.
As she works to carry out her campaign pledge to restructure the culture of the DA’s office, Harrington says she’s relying on increased internal communication.
“Something that I’ve implemented are weekly team meetings," said the county's top prosectuor. "So the district court ADAs are meeting once a week to talk about their cases and issues that have come up. The superior court team is doing the same. The victim advocates are meeting once a week. These are things that did not happen in the past, and so those are the tools that we’re using.”
One of her biggest campaign promises was to reopen the last 15 years of unindicted sexual assault cases in the county. The DA says it’s still high on her list of priorities.
“I’ve talked to our Detective Lieutenant in the State Police Detective Unit, starting to look at how we pull those files and how we review those files," said Harrington. "And I have started talking to the Attorney General about getting some support around looking at those cases.”
Another promise she reiterated at her swearing in was to keep community voices at the forefront of the DA office’s deliberations.
“We’re planning to start our citizens’ advisory board, so we’re working on identifying people from different parts of the community that can really help us advance the new initiatives and the agenda that I ran on,” said Harrington.
Specifically, she said prevention around domestic violence and sexual assault were topics she intended to pose to the community – as well as a closer look at legalized recreational marijuana.
“And how that’s going to potentially impact particularly young people here in our community who are not able to participate in the marijuana sales business because it’s really become a big business, very expensive to get into – so how are we going to deal with kids who are maybe more marginalized, who get involved in selling marijuana?” asked the DA.
On the topic of legal weed, Harrington said she was interested in exploring ways to expunge the records of those convicted of pre-legalization crimes around the plant, saying the voters have spoken.
“To me, it really is unjust for people to continue to be penalized by having these old criminal charges for something that is not against the law anymore," said Harrington. "And that’s absolutely consistent with the whole values behind criminal justice reform.”
She said she’s working with Norfolk County DA Michael Morrissey on finding ways within the law to do that in Massachusetts. Harrington suggested that with the new legislative session underway in Boston, lawmakers should take another look at house bill 2785, which would have called for statewide expungement of marijuana charges on a statewide level before fizzling out last year.