The two self-described progressives in the Democratic Primary for the Berkshire District Attorney seat are feuding over experience and community support.
In her closing statement at Wednesday night’s forum in Pittsfield, candidate Judith Knight – a Great Barrington attorney – twice directly addressed a single member of the packed crowd.
“Shirley, you called me in January of 2008 and I showed up again for a person in the community who was being prosecuted really I think out of pure vindictiveness out of the District Attorney’s office," said Knight. "I got that case dismissed.”
Knight was enumerating her work among Pittsfield’s community of color at the end of the NAACP sponsored event, saying that she’s been “committed to social justice her entire career.”
“What would be the need to call my name and list out cases that she was involved with?" asked Shirley Edgerton, who’s involved with the Berkshire Chapter of the NAACP as a member of its standing committee on race relations. A retiree, she volunteers with youth organizations and the Pittsfield Public Schools as a cultural competency coach.
“Often in my role as an advocate in a community with young people, over the years I’ve gotten involved in some legal cases,” she said.
Edgerton told WAMC that some of those cases involved situations where community members and families felt that young people were facing racial discrimination from the DA’s office. But, Edgerton says Knight didn’t represent them accurately in her remarks, describing her reaction as “appalled.”
“It felt like it was a mechanism to prove her sense of social justice, so that was my resentment – for manipulating and using those situations at this time in an attempt to show her commitment to social justice," said Edgerton. "But for me that just shows that she had a commitment to being an attorney.”
Edgerton supports attorney Andrea Harrington for district attorney, even volunteering for her campaign. She says Harrington’s experience working for death row inmates in Florida speaks to her social justice credentials.
“I’m not suggesting that Judy doesn’t have some sense of that, but it feels like because Andrea has clearly championed that conversation in these debates, that there seems to be a flow now going towards that direction,” said Edgerton.
“The reason I brought – I called Shirley out like that is because I’m baffled as to why she’s supporting Andrea Harrington given our long history," said Knight to WAMC. "I have been her go-to person for a decade or more.”
She says her work among Pittsfield’s communities of color had no political motivation. Knight said she hadn’t spoken to Edgerton about the issue before the forum.
“She called me," said Knight. "She never called Andrea Harrington or didn’t call someone else because she knew that I could get the job done. I have the respect of the community, I have the experience to get it done, I know how to do these things, so I think that it speaks volumes that she called me.”
Edgerton doesn’t believe that Knight has a “mandate from the community”.
“The reality of the situation is that I went to her like I would go to any other attorney and we secured her services financially and she served in her role as an attorney,” she told WAMC.
Knight told WAMC that she offered some of her services pro bono or at reduced rates, though Edgerton said none of the work was for free.
Harrington says that Edgerton speaks for herself, not the campaign, but condemned the Knight campaign as being overly focused on attacking her and not incumbent DA Paul Caccaviello.
“Letters to the editor constantly talking about me being a political opportunist, misrepresenting my work experience and my role and the kind of work I’ve done in the community," said Harrington of the attacks.
Knight says the criticism is accurate.
“She’s not being forthcoming or truthful to her supporters about her actual experience in criminal law," Knight told WAMC. "She changes it constantly. She has not been a defense attorney for 15 years. She worked at that death penalty place for one year, and then she went to some commercial litigation law firm for two years after that. That’s what her resume said before.”
The resume that Harrington provided WAMC says she worked at a now shuttered commercial litigation firm in 2003 and 2004 before becoming an Assistant Capital Collateral Regional Counsel on death row cases from 2004 to 2007. The Counsel says Harrington left in 2006.
“It would be very scary if she were to get into office and then just start running the next campaign to do something else,” said Knight.
Harrington described Knight’s comments as “false attacks” and “tangents”.
“My focus has been on look at the record of Paul Caccaviello, what he has done and what has happened in that office since he’s been there and since he’s been in a very high leadership role in the past 14 years," Harrington told WAMC. "That’s what I’m talking about because that’s what needs to change, and I think that the fact that my other self-described progressive opponent isn’t looking at that and is spending all of their time and their energy in their campaign attacking me speaks volumes about their true intentions are in this race.”
Knight agreed to Harrington’s challenge to pledge to reject any job in Caccaviello’s DA office should he win the election.
“I have a job," Knight told WAMC. "I don’t want to work in that office under Paul, I want to be the DA. I’m running against Paul.”