With less than a month before the Sep. 6 primary election for Suffolk County District Attorney, candidates Kevin Hayden—the current Suffolk County DA appointed by Governor Baker following former DA Rachel Rollins’ ascension to US Attorney—and Ricardo Arroyo, a Boston City Councilor representing District 5, fielded questions from moderator Mark Smith at the Boston Bar Association offices at 16 Beacon St. on Thursday night.
The two candidates covered key areas of interest to the Greater Boston legal community, including mandatory sentencing, the do-not-prosecute list drafted by former DA Rollins, and pre-arraignment diversion programs for juveniles and young adults. Hayden and Arroyo also provided their thoughts on running the DA’s office itself, including issues related to staffing and retention.
Councilor Arroyo began his remarks by reiterating his call for DA Hayden to resign following an investigative report by the Boston Globe detailing the handling of alleged misconduct by a Boston Transit Police officer. DA Hayden, in turn, reiterated that the case would be taken to a grand jury and was never, as was previously reported, closed.
As for matters of policy, the two candidates differed in several important respects:
On “the Rollins Memo” …
Regarding the former DA’s memo detailing a list of 15 “do-not-prosecute” crimes, both Hayden and Arroyo agreed that presumptive diversion of low-level offenses is necessary to ensure balanced and efficient administration of justice. However, whereas Hayden indicated the importance of avoiding a formulaic approach, Arroyo called the list—which he had a hand in creating—successful, and even advocated for potentially expanding it beyond the current 15 charges in the future. Hayden also indicated a written policy regarding non-prosecutions may be coming, to which Arroyo responded he was “looking forward” to seeing it.
On mandatory minimum sentencing …
DA Hayden was clear in his stance that mandatory minimums should be used “sparingly,” noting that they may be called for in some cases of repeat offenders with serious crimes on their records. Councilor Arroyo went a step further, saying he was opposed to all mandatory minimums, calling them “coercive and harmful.”
While both candidates argued in favor of judicial discretion, Arroyo made clear that, if elected, he would also lobby for changes to mandatory minimum laws.
On the gang database …
This is perhaps where Arroyo and Hayden most differed. DA Hayden stated that he favored maintaining the law-enforcement database of potential gang members in Boston, which he said has been helpful in safety planning. He also said the procedures related to the list have been improving, with more individuals being removed than added. Ultimately, his stance was that reform—not elimination—was the best policy.
“We can’t forget our victims; we can’t forget our witnesses; we can’t forget our communities,” Hayden remarked. “We have to achieve public safety and criminal legal reform at the same time.”
Councilor Arroyo, noting that the list—which he called ineffective and unreliable—is made up disproportionately of people of color, said he would eliminate it entirely. He said the DA’s office should instead focus on actual cases rather than “watching children and arbitrarily assigning them points in the database.”
On the DA’s office …
Departing from policy discussion, the two candidates were also asked how they would address turnover and attrition within the DA’s office. Hayden described the issue as a “long-standing problem,” noting that despite recent raises, salaries within the office—as well as those of public defenders—are not high enough. Hayden also remarked on the need to hire more people of color to ensure the office reflects the community which it serves, and generally the need to not only retain good lawyers but recruit and hire them from the start.
Arroyo echoed many of these sentiments, including the need for both raises and loan-forgiveness programs. The Councilor also noted that those working within the DA’s office do so because they wish to make a difference and highlighted the importance of ensuring that feeling of inspiration and support while maintaining work-life balance.
“One of the ways in which we would like to keep folks on board is by making sure that they are continuously inspired and not burnt out,” Arroyo said.
The Democratic primary for Suffolk County DA will take place on Tuesday, Sep. 6; the primary winner will run unopposed in the general election without a Republican candidate.