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Following dominant victory over Harrington in Berkshire DA race, Shugrue thanks controversial legal mentor

Shugrue addressing supporters on election night.
Josh Landes
Shugrue addressing supporters on election night.

Pittsfield, Massachusetts lawyer Timothy Shugrue defeated first-term District Attorney Andrea Harrington in Tuesday’s Berkshire Democratic primary, as the office prepares for another leadership change.

With over 22,000 recorded votes reported by Pittsfield Community Television Tuesday night, Shugrue won the day with over 60% of the tally. Around 9:45, he declared victory in front of supporters at an election night party at the Proprietor’s Lodge in Pittsfield.

“The message tonight, as you saw the turnout, which was a nice turnout, you saw the manner in which we won," said Shugrue. "People wanted the change. And you all told me that, but I needed to I need to see it and feel it firsthand. But thank you all for that.”

Shugrue said Harrington called to concede and offer her support during his transition into office at the end of the year.

“During those first weeks in March, I had the steadfast support of my good friend and mentor, who I think has been in my life for a good part of my legal career, one of the most respected judges in Massachusetts, Judge Daniel Ford," he said. "Judge Daniel Ford can't be here tonight because unfortunately he was not feeling well.”

Despite Shugrue’s compliments, Ford is infamous for his role in the prosecution of Bernard Baran in the 1980s. In 1984, Baran – an openly gay man from Lanesborough working at the Early Childhood Development Center in Pittsfield – was arrested on charges of child molestation. As First Assistant District Attorney, Ford secured Baran’s conviction on five counts of rape and five counts of indecent assault and battery. Decades later, an investigation into the trial found enough prosecutorial misconduct to overturn the conviction. The charges were dismissed in 2009, but only after Baran reported experiencing multiple sexual assaults while in prison.

Another of Ford’s convictions – that of Barry Jacobson, a Jewish Manhattan real estate broker accused of arson in the early 1980s – was overturned just this year due to faulty evidence and antisemitism among jurors. A 2014 Washington Post article went as far to ask in its headline “Why is Daniel Ford still a Massachusetts judge?” Ford retired in 2019.

“Him along with Betsy Quigley, Sherwood Guernsey, Judith Knight, Doug Miskin, and other prominent progressives have continuously provided me with the guidance and advice, often at critical times during this race,” continued the incoming district attorney.

Shugrue’s supporters include some of Harrington’s longstanding rivals. Knight, who was at the event, is a fellow attorney and lost to Harrington in a bitter 2018 primary. Guernsey, also a lawyer, co-founded the activist group Berkshire Democratic Brigades. He backed Knight in that same primary.

With no Republican or Independent candidates running in the November general, Shugrue is effectively a lock as Berkshire County’s next DA. He reiterated his campaign pledge to once again prosecute lower-level crimes, a practice that was halted during Harrington’s tenure.

“In my opinion, it's irresponsible to refuse to charge individuals who commit relatively minor crimes such as shoplifting and allow them to repeat this anti-social conduct time and time again with no consequences," said Shugrue. "I've heard about our local merchants’ stories and their outrage because they're losing thousands of dollars of merchandise to shoplifters who are then emboldened to victimize the same merchants over and over again, sometimes several times a day without the fear of any penalty. People have accountability, we're going to hold people accountable. Some argue that prosecuting shoplifters criminalizes property and contributes to systematic racism. I disagree. I think the fairer and more compassionate approach is to charge shoplifters in court and then to offer them statutory diversion programs with pretrial probation, address the reason why they're shoplifting in the first place. If it was because of a drug problem, I say that we should offer them the treatment to address that addiction. Let me be clear, I don't want to send shoplifters and other low-level offenders to jail. But I do want them to learn that criminal behavior has consequences.”

As in his failed 2004 bid for DA, Shugrue ran on claims of rising crime rates unsupported by data from local law enforcement. According to July 2022 data from the Pittsfield Police Department, total crime has seen an almost 40% drop over the past five years.

“I think the illegal possession of a firearm is a crime that must be punished appropriately," said Shugrue. "There have been too many shootings in our county in the last several months, some involving our youth, and the fact that there are so many illegally possessed guns in the streets is a major factor. These cases should not be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors and plea bargains away to non-jail sentences. I intend to prosecute every case vigorously and to seek appropriate sentences when I think such a sentence is necessary to protect you, the public.”

At her election night gathering in the Hilton Garden Inn, Harrington told WAMC that she is proud of the race she ran and of her team in the DA’s office.

“The Berkshire District Attorney's office has put out amazing work product over the last three and a half years, and that's based on team of phenomenal people who are interested in the work of justice and very dedicated, and that will continue," she said. "They don't work for me. They work for the community, and they work for the common law.”

Shugrue will be the county’s fourth DA since 2018.

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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