The summer is here. It’s not the calendar summer but the traffic summer which poured out on Memorial Day and will continue to pour out from those living in the environs of the city to the lakes and oceans and their beaches and water sports, not least of them fishing. The days of sun and vacation are upon us.
Thus is seems strange to start this season with reading a missive in a local newspaper which seems to have brought out something usually handled in a more discreet manner. It is the unhappiness of one district attorney with the manner in which another one is handling her office.
The district attorney from the Cape and Island has decided to demean the actions of the Suffolk County district attorney in a public forum. This is unheard of among the close-knit brotherhood (sisterhood?) of state prosecutors. They have had their differences in the past but usually kept them in-house. It had always been recognized that people could best settle their differences in that manner since they involved personal approaches to handling criminal matters.
Now the tradition of deference and quiet discussion has been exploded. What has happened I wonder that these matters were not discussed at the district attorneys monthly meetings and resolved in the traditional manner. This is especially so because the writer of the column in the newspaper is Michael O’Keefe who has been a prosecutor for 33 years.
I’d have to guess that at this time he is the longest serving DA in the state which makes his actions even more curious. O’Keefe started out as an assistant da. He was a highly effective prosecutor. He was given the award as prosecutor of the year in that position. He eventually rose in the office in stature and was elected district attorney when an opening in that job occurred. He has been a very effective district attorney who has performed well in his position.
Why then, I wonder is he taking a shot at Suffolk DA Rachel Rollins.? Especially, when in my opinion, his shot misses the mark by a mile. Did he do it because the old timers comfortable in the way things are done prefer not to have their rocking chairs rattled by the new young ones running around with their different and strange ideas? Change is resisted by those who think the way things are being done are the only way they should be done for the reason they have been always been done that way.
What Mike O’Keefe seems to miss is that prior to him joining the DA’s office 33 years ago which to my calculation would be in 1986 is that huge changes in the manner in which district attorneys handled cases had been happening and were pretty much set in place when he arrived. Prior to 1975 the district attorney position was part-time. Governor Dukakis signed legislation making it full-time. He did this in light of the Warren Court’s decisions that greatly expanded the rights of criminals which he recognized put part-time prosecutors at a great disadvantage when facing full-time time defense counsel. Among other things Dukakis did was appoint William Delahunt to the position of Norfolk DA when George Burke resigned.
Delahunt waa then to the other DAs as Rolllins is to them now. Delahunt introduces most of the programs that O’Keefe praisingly puts forth as those beyond the traditional functions of a DA which was simply prosecuting cases. He was the first to establish victim witness programs, sexual assault units, and domestic violence programs designed to aid other affected by criminal activities. (He also added specialized units to prosecute arson, white collar and organized crime.)
Many of these were not appreciated by the old timers who thought the job should be limited to prosecuting violators of the criminal law. Despite fiercely differing opinions their disagreements were handled in-house. That’s what makes it so strange that this matter has gone public in the way in which it has. Is it just the old being rubbed by the new or is it something else?