As it prepares for new leadership next year, the Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office also has a new second-in-command.
First Assistant DA Karen Bell is to date the highest-profile hire by DA-elect, Democrat Andrea Harrington, who defeated incumbent DA Paul Caccaviello in November.
Bell is a native of Western Massachusetts and a graduate of Hofstra and Western New England University. This is the highest position the 46-year-old will have held as a prosecutor. Her career began in 1998 in the appellate unit of the Hampden County DA’s office.
“And then I went over to the district court and worked there for a few years, until I went to superior court, and practice in superior court prosecuting major felonies, a lot of gun crimes and victim cases,” Bell told WAMC.
She then went part-time for seven years as she raised a family, working under a succession of Hampden County DAs: William Bennett, Mark Mastroianni, and most recently, Anthony Gulluni. All three are Democrats.
“And during that time, I worked in the grand jury unit of our office and I was assigned to a number of gang cases," said Bell. "And that’s when I started working on homicide cases with District Attorney Bennett, at the time, and then continued working on homicide cases with District Attorney Mastroianni as well. And then ultimately under Anthony Gulluni worked in the homicide unit of his office.”
She also has experience working on cold cases. Bell says Harrington’s team first approached her to see if they shared similar values.
“I think that something she has always maintained was that while she envisions new approaches in regards to a number of different areas of prosecution, the public safety is number one for her and the office, and violent offenders are going to be prosecuted,” the new first assistant DA said.
Bell says that “justice comes in many forms,” requiring a careful assessment of each defendant. She believes that the DA’s office can take a more nuanced look at how it treats those in the criminal justice system – especially first-time offenders.
“You have to really evaluate those individuals to say, there’s a couple paths here," said Bell. "Are we just going to let you just go down the path of maybe being a repeat offender, or are we going to try and put you on a path that you’re not going to repeat offend, and that you are going to be a productive member of Berkshire County and of society here – and I think that that’s a path that a number of individuals haven’t been given the opportunity to take in regards to some of the cases that they’ve been charged with.”
Citing the similarities between practicing in Hampden County – the Berkshires’ immediate neighbor to the southeast – Bell says she doesn’t see any roadblocks to the transition. She says she’s been working with Harrington and her transition team to ensure a clean handoff.
“District Attorney-elect and myself and Justice Spina have met with the presiding justice here in the superior court to make sure that we can continue to prosecute cases and hit the ground running as soon as we can in January,” Bell told WAMC.
The Harrington administration starts in earnest January 2nd.