As she prepares to take office on January 2nd, Berkshire District Attorney-elect Andrea Harrington is appointing staff and her transition team.
Forty years ago, Berkshire County split off from Hampden County to establish its own district attorney’s office. After a hard fought Democratic primary not unlike this year’s, the fledging office had to build itself up from scratch. Retired Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis Spina was there.
“This was a brand new office, but Judge Danford, a superior court judge, was the first assistant, I was the second assistant, and Tony Ruberto was the District Attorney,” he told WAMC.
Now, Spina finds himself again in a moment of profound change for the office as he chairs Andrea Harrington’s transition team. He says Harrington reached out just after her victory in the November 6th general election.
“The criminal justice system is in many respects a cooperative effort – and when I say cooperative, it depends on the goodwill of judges, of prosecutors, of defense lawyers, police, social workers," said Spina. "I mean, these are community problems, these aren’t problems that just end up getting dumped in the lap of the District Attorney, and anybody who thinks that that’s the way to handle crime, is to dump them in the lap of the police and the District Attorney, are – I think what we’ve learned in the last several decades is that’s just totally wrong.”
Spina says inclusivity and outreach – alongside the “core function” of prosecuting crime and working with law enforcement – are high priorities for the new office.
“The most elusive component is community involvement, and community involvement is really going to be essential in prosecuting crime," he told WAMC. "People are reluctant to come forward, and we need to address some of the reasons why they don’t come forward, why they don’t want to be involved, and get them involved, and get back to the idea that this is a community, and it functions best when all the members of the community are participating.”
Spina says the transition team is assembling a list of community groups the DA’s office intends to reach out to before January, in addition to making sure the office is structurally sound.
“There may be some additional hiring beginning in January,” he added.
As Harrington and her team review the office’s staff and procedures, she’s announced one major hire: First Assistant District Attorney Karen Bell, currently an ADA in Hampden County.
“She is a very well respected, very experienced prosecutor," Harrington told WAMC. "She specializes in homicide cases, she has particular experiences in cold cases, which are extremely challenging. She has a reputation for being tough but also for adhering to just the highest ethical standards, and she’s particularly interested in mentoring young attorneys.”
Harrington says her hiring committee is working to fill out the rest of the office, with a focus on diversity.
“And diversity comes in a lot of different ways, but diversity of experience and seeing how things are done in other places I think is going to help us to be as effective as we can be in building public safety here in Berkshire County,” said the DA elect.
Harrington explained her pitch to potential staffers.
“This is an opportunity to try innovative approaches to criminal justice here in Berkshire County," she told WAMC. "Berkshire County is a small enough office where I think we can really be innovative and try new things, and some people I’ve talked to are really interested in that because it’s a different kind of opportunity.”
After beating DA Paul Caccaviello, Harrington will become the first woman to be DA in county history. She says she’s tapping into larger networks of similarly minded leaders — talking to DAs in the rest of the state and nationally.
“I have been invited to a conference in Houston put on by an organization called Fair And Just Prosecution, and they work to train reform minded District Attorneys,” said Harrington.
Harrington and Spina say that the full transition team will be announced after Thanksgiving.