General election preview: Defeated in primary, Berkshire DA launches write-in bid

Berkshire County District Attorney Paul Caccaviello lost the Sept. 4 Democratic primary against Andrea Harrington, a defense attorney. But he has since announced a write-in campaign to keep his position in November. He told The Intercept that a district attorney should not be a “product manufactured by a powerful political machine.” This attack is not without irony: The Appeal reported in June that Caccaviello’s predecessor coordinated with Governor Charlie Baker to elevate Caccaviello to incumbency just months before the primary.

Harrington is running on ending “tough on crime” prosecution and on confronting “the impact of systemic racism.” Harrington talked with The Appeal’s Eoin Higgins in June about wanting to grow restorative justice. “The conversation over crime has been fear-based; to be a DA, you must run on being ‘tough on crime,’” she told him. “Now, I think because of the opioid crisis, the conversation has opened up and all people are seeing what communities of color have known for a long time: The system doesn’t work.” Harrington supports alternative approaches, including increased diversion programs and new specialized courts with a rehabilitative mission. She has also committed to ending the use of cash bail for low-level offenses and advocating the repeal of mandatory minimums.

In the primary, Harrington defeated not just Caccaviello but also Judith Knight, who ran on a similar reform platform. But Eoin Higgins reports in The Intercept that Knight could endorse Caccaviello’s write-in bid because of what she describes as Harrington’s managerial inexperience; Knight also told Higgins that she might join Caccaviello’s office if he won.

Primary preview (published on Aug. 30): Berkshire County DA faces two reform-minded challengers

Two defense attorneys who wish to fight mass incarceration are challenging the DA of Berkshire County in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary. “The Berkshire DA’s office … has been stuck in the dark ages for decades,” says Judith Knight, who assails what she describes as a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach that causes disproportionate sentences and hostility to diversion. “The current District Attorney’s Office is stuck in 1980s ‘tough-on-crime’ mindset,” explains Andrea Harrington, who credits her involvement against overincarceration to her law school professor Angela J. Davis, the author of Arbitrary Justice, a book on prosecutorial power.

On Sept. 4, Harrington and Knight face Paul Caccaviello, who became the DA in March thanks to the maneuvering of his predecessor David Capeless. Eoin Higgins reported in The Appeal that Capeless coordinated with the office of Governor Charlie Baker to resign just months before this election and to have Baker appoint Caccaviello, who was then first assistant district attorney. This is why Caccaviello is facing voters as the incumbent, an enviable advantage. He has the support of the Berkshire County sheriff and of local police unions.

Harrington and Knight both advocate shifting toward more rehabilitative policies by making greater use of diversion and restorative justice programs, implementing specialized courts with a rehabilitative mission, and curbing charging practices. They also emphasize that they would confront the system’s racial biases; Harrington notes that the share of African Americans among the county’s pretrial detainees is more than five times the share of African Americans in the county’s overall population. Knight and Harrington articulate these approaches in more detail in the ACLU’s candidate questionnaire, where they also commit to supporting repeal of all mandatory minimums and to curbing the use of cash bail.

Caccaviello has not responded to this questionnaire, the only candidate to not respond among all 10 of the Democrats running in the Massachusetts elections I profile today.