In a controversy-ridden Suffolk DA race, another question remains: who has the right experience for the job?

During the election campaign, Arroyo often refers to the challenges his former legal clients have faced in what he calls a discriminatory justice system, which he wants to reform. He has seen the effects of trauma on young defendants, he says, and has personally taken some clients to drug treatment programs.

But most of Arroyo’s legal work has been under the radar over a three-and-a-half-year period, a point his opponent in the race for Suffolk District Attorney has repeatedly underlined in the run-up to of the September 6 primary. election.

“I have 25 years of experience in this criminal justice system,” Hayden said during a recent debate, pointing to his record as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer as well as his management of the Offenders Registration Board. state sex. “I am made for this job.”

In any political race, the question of a candidate’s professional experience arises; it’s an approach straight out of the Politics 101 playbook, and one that Hayden deployed early on.

But in the race for district attorney, the question of experience intersects with a larger debate in Massachusetts and across the country about what kind of training is needed to be a top law enforcement official: how much experience legal do you need – and above all what type – to be a district attorney?

“What you need is someone with some significant experience in the criminal justice system,” said David Rudovsky, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a civil rights attorney. “The question is, ‘what is the threshold of qualifications to be the district attorney, rather than someone who is in the office.

Four years ago, Rudovsky watched Philadelphia voters break tradition by electing a civil rights lawyer known for suing police against a former prosecutor, by a 3-to-1 margin. Rudovsky said voters embraced new DA reforms, including changes to the bond system. Likewise, voters in Greater Boston took a new direction four years ago when they elected Rachael Rollins, who worked largely in civil cases, rather than an established prosecutor in the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office.

Rollins has since been appointed U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts. Hayden was nominated by Governor Charlie Baker for the remainder of her term and is seeking her first election to that position.

The 34 year old player Arroyo said his tenure as a public defender — representing some of the state’s poorest and most desperate defendants — prepared him for the job. He also points at his three years on city council, where he championed several public safety reforms.

Although his career has been built around defending defendants and those disenfranchised by the system, he said he recognizes the powerful role a prosecutor plays in shaping the system, one of reasons for seeking the position. He endorsed many of the progressive values ​​that brought Rollins his success.

As a junior public defender with the State Committee for Public Advocate Services, Arroyo would have been responsible for a wide range of cases, with duties ranging from representing clients charged with more serious misdemeanors and crimes. drug-related, as well as minors and child protection cases, according to a state job posting for a similar position. He worked first in Essex County and then in Suffolk County.

Asked by the Globe, Arroyo declined to identify the specific cases he handled, citing attorney-client privileges. His former employer, the Public Counseling Services Committee, also did not release a list of his cases; a state court website does not track cases by attorney. The Globe found no published media accounts, by the newspaper or otherwise, of any of his legal work – likely because entry-level work goes under the radar and often includes negotiating contracts. plea deals or the diversion of defendants to social service programs.

Arroyo said he represented hundreds of defendants, although he brought fewer than 10 cases to judge.

A Globe check of Hayden’s legal career in published accounts shows that he has handled a range of cases, as a defense lawyer and also as a prosecutor. In 1998 he filed a robbery complaint against a woman known as one of the Framingham Eight, a group of women who had previously been released from prison after being shown to have killed their partners to end years of abuse. The woman, Shannon Booker, was eventually found not guilty on the new charges of robbery by reason of insanity.

As a private attorney, a notable case includes his defense of a horse owner who faced animal cruelty charges for failing to euthanize a sick horse; Hayden reached a mid-trial plea deal with prosecutors that secured probation for the man, rather than jail time.

Andrea Cabral, the former secretary of public safety for the state, said trial experience, particularly as a prosecutor, is essential for any district attorney to understand the seriousness of the decisions they make in court. courtroom. Cabral worked as a prosecutor with Hayden more than a decade ago and has donated to her race, although she said she did not endorse any of the candidates. But she said her experience gives her “a unique understanding of the seriousness of the job”.

“It’s really hard to understand the power that the Commonwealth and the person who speaks on behalf of the Commonwealth wields in a courtroom unless you’ve actually held that position,” she said.

Hayden has won the support of well-known members of the legal community, including his former boss, former Suffolk District Attorney Ralph Martin, as well as Joseph Feaster, former head of the NAACP in Boston and member of the reform of Boston Police in 2021. Task Force, which drafted a new set of policing policies that the city adopted.

State Senator Lydia Edwards, who served with Arroyo on City Council and joined him in enacting new public safety measures in Boston, also endorsed Hayden.

In a statement, Edwards called Arroyo a “gifted politician,” but said she wanted to support “Kevin Hayden, civil servant, rather than the politician.”

Arroyo, for his part, sought to use Hayden’s experience against him, claiming his opponent represents the Arroyo criminal justice system wants to reform. In recent weeks, he has questioned Hayden’s experience as head of the state’s Sex Offender Registration Board, after a 2017 independent state audit revealed oversight issues. hundreds of sex offenders.

He also called on Hayden to resign after a Globe report earlier this month raised questions about Hayden’s handling of an investigation into MBTA Transit police wrongdoing and cover-up allegations. Hayden has since said he called a grand jury to consider the matter.

During a recent debate, Arroyo argued that “not all experiences are good.”

Arroyo has also faced controversy of its own, after a Globe investigation found he was twice investigated for sexual assault, in 2005 and 2007, but did not list the investigations into his 2014 bar application. The app is intended to screen an applicant’s credibility and truthfulness, and any inaccuracies could result in disciplinary action. Arroyo strenuously denied the assault allegations and was never charged, and said he never knew he was under investigation, contradicting police records obtained by the Globe.

Daniel Medwed, a North East law professor, said a candidate’s legal experience can be measured in different ways and a prosecutorial history can also be a disadvantage. Medwed hasn’t endorsed any of the candidates, but his research and legal work has centered on the accountability of prosecutors, and he said voters are increasingly looking to outsiders — not seasoned prosecutors — to handle the system.

“Our history of prosecutors wielding that power in this country, but also in Boston, isn’t always a grand narrative,” he said. “Having that experience can also lead you to do things the way they’ve always been done in the past.”

Carlton E. Williams, a civil rights attorney and longtime friend of Arroyo, said he’s seen Arroyo’s advocacy firsthand for his clients — he’s watched him prepare for some of his trial and helped him “crunch” strategy ideas, he said.

But, he argued, the job of a prosecutor requires more than just trial experience.

“What is the job of the public prosecutor? It is to be the executor. It’s about running a big office, with a philosophy, a political statement, being a visionary,” he said. “Experience matters. Experience is not just about trying.

Chris Dearborn, a law professor at Suffolk University whose students represent defendants in the Boston city court system, said “there is no litmus test for this work.” He said both candidates will have to defend their credentials as well as their proposed policies, “and how that affects the criminal justice system.”

The two candidates, he said, may report different experiences. But, citing recent campaign controversies, Dearborn said voters will also want to make sure they “elect a district attorney who can be counted on to deliver.”

“Resumes and policy proposals should always matter, but this race is now also about integrity, and that should matter to Suffolk County given the enormous power of the position,” he said.


Milton J. Valencia can be contacted at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617.

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