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Robert Sullivan spells out case for Berkshire DA candidacy before fall election

Robert Sullivan.
Robert Sullivan
Robert Sullivan.

A Lee, Massachusetts attorney who has called for Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington to resign is now running for her job.

Robert Sullivan, 38, made waves last June with a press release calling for Harrington to step down after her controversial attempt to have district court Judge Jennifer Tyne removed from the bench.

“The channels in which she used to try to do that and the lack of her own sort of investigation into the claims that she made were completely in my mind inappropriate,” said the candidate.

At the time, Sullivan wasn’t officially running for office. He says a groundswell of support from the broader community pushed him to officially pull papers.

“People that are familiar with the system, that work in the system, that see it, people that aren't familiar with it at all and keep themselves informed by watching the news or paying attention to a case or people that have been involved in the case, whether it’s a victim or witness, saying that they're unhappy about what is going on," said the lawyer. "A large amount of support from folks in law enforcement.”

Some of Sullivan’s criticisms of Harrington echo arguments made against the DA in her 2018 campaign. She narrowly defeated incumbent Paul Caccaviello – the hand-selected successor to his former boss, David Capeless – in both the Democratic primary and the general election when he ran a write-in campaign.

“If you have somebody who's leading the office who doesn't have the experience of court, courtroom work, trial experience, then you're sort of a ship without guidance," said Sullivan. "You can hire good people to work for you. But when people come to you and need to train them, or they have a question, or this strategy that the certain case needs, I just don't see some clear leadership there. And there's- I think that's been shown by a lot of turnover that they've had among their staff, among the attorneys that have worked there.”

In another criticism reminiscent of 2018, when Harrington ran as a reformer, Sullivan says he’s against what he considers politicizing the office. He’s running as an unenrolled candidate.

“A district attorney is obviously required to be a lawyer, number one, so there's certain rules that bind you in terms of what you're what you're allowed to do and not allowed to do," Sullivan told WAMC. "You have a certain purpose. There are other executive positions and other obviously, positions in legislative branch of government that have a lot more policy making behind them. And I think that sometimes you see a lot of politics involved in that. And of course, people get very political with certain issues that tend to be hot button issues or even national political issues. I just don't think a district attorney's office, the functioning of that office, should be political in that way. It shouldn't sway with the winds of a polarizing political issue.”

Sullivan says he isn’t inherently opposed to the kind of progressive values and focus on racial justice that Harrington has brought to the job, but says he favors a case-by-case approach.

“I don't think it's ever inappropriate to, for anybody to bring out or point out, whether it's specific examples of racial disparity or stats related to racial disparity," he said. "By the same token, I think it's important to implement policies that actually affect that or help that, not broad, sweeping policies that sort of pretend to help that.”

Sullivan, who grew up in Peabody, studied at New England Law in Boston. After graduating, he came out to Berkshire County to serve as an assistant district attorney under then-DA Capeless.

“I'm not running to be the, you know, version two of David Capeless," Sullivan told WAMC. "There are certain things that I would take from what I've learned from him. But it would certainly be, there would certainly be differences. I've learned a lot from him, I have a lot of respect for him. I will take some of that if I'm fortunate enough to be elected. But I'll also take some of the things that I've learned along the way, add them to that. So I'm not David Capeless, I'm also not Andrea Harrington. I’m my own candidate, and I think it's appropriate for me to make that distinction.”

While Harrington hasn’t officially declared she’s running for re-election, campaign finance reports show her both actively fundraising as well as paying for consultants and advertising. The campaign is also sending fundraising emails and is actively hiring, as evidenced by a job posting from November seeking candidates for a communications role. Harrington has about $14,500 on hand as of the end of 2021.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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