Yesterday I asked if there was something different about Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins that made Governor Baker’s Secretary of Public Safety Thomas Truco III do what no other person holding that position had ever done which is to write a lengthy letter which became public criticizing her office policies. I mentioned Truco was an officious intermedder because Rollins does not operate under his jurisdiction. I also suggested the normal and traditional manner of airing disagreements is in private. Truco’s actions were so abnormal and out of the main stream that one has to consider whether he was motivated by Rollins being an African-American.
It seems what got Truco’s goat was The Rachael Rollins Policy Memo, which can be read here. I read it shortly after it came out. I found it refreshing and enlightening although it could have done with some professional editing. I have written before of the need to change the criminal justice system – I give her credit for trying. I especially give her credit because she is changing it in a way that would not have occurred to others – it is from the perspective of a black woman who has lived in her community.
One of my favorite movies (I haven’t seen that many not being a movie fan) is Amadeus. There is a scene in the movie some call apocryphal piffle in which Emperor Joseph II of Austria speaks with Amadeus Mozart after sitting through Mozart’s opera “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” The emperor tells Mozart: ”Too beautiful for our ears, my dear Mozart, and monstrous many notes.” Mozart replied: ”Exactly as many as are necessary, Your Majesty.”
I have written in the past that Massachusetts has too many crimes; the district attorneys seem to reply “exactly many as necessary” as they rush to the legislature each year discovering more acts that are “necessary” to make criminal. It is delightful to see a district attorney who “gets it.” She also believes there are too many crimes.
Unlike others she recognizes this from her life experience. She sees how many actions that should not be labeled crimes are so labeled. She understands how after a conviction on one of them a person may be tagged for life depriving him of her of future opportunities. Her ideas stopping this wrongful tagging are not new but are being presented in a bold truthful manner.
Rollins is a breath of fresh air in the office of district attorney. She has thrown out the timid book that most of them have followed. She is smart. She understands as I did that the district attorney has the most powerful position in the criminal justice system. In the past I have urged some district attorneys to take up the gauntlet and exercise their inherent power. They have all been afraid of doing it being very happy with the same-old, same-old. Not only are they, so are the judges who more than most don’t like change. That is why the system is basically unchanged since the early part of the 20th century if not even before that.
Rollins may have fears of bucking the system and doing what she believes is right. Fortunately, those fears are subservient to the great harm she sees that unnecessary prosecutions have brought especially to members of her community. She will face lots of opposition and push back from those dandies like Truco and Baker and the other DAs who don’t see how her experience is compelling her actions. I’m hoping she perseveres and succeeds.
I suggest, that what she has done is only a first step in reforming our system. What we need is a great shift to making crimes into civil offenses; we must develop a modern computer system that allows most people not to lose days away from work or home by having to attend a court hearing that usually amounts to nothing; and we must think outside the cramped and suffocating box of our present system.
Rachel Rollins was criticized in part because she was different. She’s black. She’s a woman. She’s strong. She’s outspoken. She’s determined. She’s not afraid to try something new. Was the criticism because of one of these, some of these, or all of these. Who knows. Take your pick. What we do know is that she was treated differently than other district attorneys. I only hope that her intrepidness and wisdom is long-standing.