Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr., who has prosecuted some of the biggest cases in the state, including that of attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid and nanny Louise Woodward, surprised the legal community Thursday night when he announced that he would not seek reelection to a third term.
The Democrat, who made his declaration during an awards ceremony for his staff, also said he intends to leave government service when he departs from office, according to a transcript of his remarks released by his spokeswoman.
“I said what I meant and meant what I said, when I stated that this job was the only elected office that I wanted,” Leone said.
“I endured the electoral process to hold what I continue to believe is the absolute best job in government and public service in Massachusetts. Helping and serving people and speaking for people who have no voice, remains a passion of mine.”
MaryBeth Long, Leone’s spokeswoman, declined to make him available for an interview Thursday night. She would not comment when asked about his future plans, and she also refused to say whether he would finish his current term, which ends in January 2015.
In more than two decades as a state and federal prosecutor, Leone has worked on several high-profile cases.
His personal record includes convictions of Woodward, a British au pair found guilty in 1997 in the shaking death of an infant in her care; state treasury officials who stole $9.7 million from taxpayers; and Reid, the attempted shoe bomber who was thwarted on a flight bound for Logan International Airport in 2001.
Leone was elected the top prosecutor in Middlesex County in 2006.
“I think Gerry is a terrific district attorney and a terrific man,” said Jeffrey Denner, a prominent criminal defense lawyer who regularly tries cases in Middlesex County. “I think he’s been tough, and I think he’s been very fair.”
John Walsh, chairman of the state Democratic Party, also praised Leone in a statement.
“Gerry Leone has shown himself to be an able prosecutor, a public safety leader, and an example of the commitment to public service that Massachusetts Democrats strive for,” Walsh said. “His will be big shoes to fill.”
Attorney General Martha Coakley, who tried the Woodward case with Leone, said in a statement that he “has devoted his career to prosecuting some of our most dangerous criminals, supporting victims of crime, and working to keep people safe. As district attorney, he has served with the highest distinction and integrity.”
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said Leone has a long and distinguished career at all levels of law enforcement. “That he has been such an effective advocate for victims and enjoyed so much success and popular support in Middlesex County is no surprise,” Conley said.
Leone’s career has included a stint in the private sector from 2005 to 2006 at Vance/Garda, an international investigation and security consulting firm, where he served as senior managing director and regional counsel.
He gave no hint of his future plans in his speech to his staff, but he told the Globe in September that there was talk that he was interested in the athletic director’s job at Penn State University, whose legacy has been marred by a sex abuse scandal.
“There was conversation involving me early, but I’ve never been contacted by the university,” Leone said at the time.
Lisa Powers, a spokeswoman for Penn State, said in an e-mail Thursday night that she was not aware of any rumors surrounding Leone.
“We are currently not seeking an athletic director,” Powers said. “That will have to be done through a national search.”
In his speech Thursday, Leone had a parting message for his staff.
“Other than a husband and father, I am not yet sure what [I] will be when I am no longer a district attorney,” he said. “I remain thoroughly engaged and enjoying this terrific job which I love, and will continue to do so until the day that I leave.
“See you at work tomorrow, bright and early.”