Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. will step down from his prosecutor’s role next month, vacating one of the state’s most coveted elected offices to join the Boston law firm that hired Scott Brown, former senator, last week.
Leone, a Democrat whose successor will be appointed by Governor Deval Patrick to serve the remainder of the term, will join Nixon Peabody on April 29 to work in its government investigations and white-collar defense practice, the firm said.
The decision to leave in the middle of his term, which extends through 2014, was made as a result of family and career considerations, Leone said.
“I’ve been doing the job of protecting and serving victims for 20 years now,” he said. “It’s a very personal decision, and the factors are numerous, but essentially it comes down to personal decisions with my family, combined with this opportunity that arose with Nixon Peabody.”
The move signals an end to a political career that many in Massachusetts had speculated would take Leone to higher office.
But Leone hinted that the political side of the job wore on him. “I certainly have no intention to go back into politics,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
He becomes the third elected official to join Nixon Peabody in the last year. The firm announced Brown’s hiring last week, and James Vallee, former State House majority leader, resigned his seat last year to take a job there.
Leone’s exit adds to political instability in Middlesex County, with US Representative Edward J. Markey hoping to win a special election for US Senate, thereby giving up the House seat he has held since 1976. A nascent field of House hopefuls, banking on the Malden Democrat beating fellow Representative Stephen F. Lynch and the Republicans in the field, is already out of the gate and is expected to grow.
“It seems like there’s definitely a domino effect going on here, a lot of intraterm movement that you don’t see often,” said Steven Panagiotakos, a former state senator from Lowell and a lobbyist at Greenwood and Hall.
With 54 municipalities, Middlesex County is the state’s largest and has funneled three consecutive prosecutors into the attorney general’s office: Scott Harshbarger, Thomas Reilly, and Martha Coakley. That will render Patrick’s selection a closely watched one, with a long list of potential contenders.
Legal insiders mentioned David Solet, chief of the Middlesex district attorney’s cyberprotection division, along with First Assistant District Attorney Michael Pelgro; Chris Doherty, now a private attorney and the office’s former general counsel; Middlesex Clerk of Courts Michael Sullivan; and John Verner, criminal chief in the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Patrick has also shown a proclivity for tapping lawmakers. In 2011, he named Peter Koutoujian, then state representative, as Middlesex County sheriff.
Koutoujian is also a possible replacement for Leone. Rachel Kaprielian, registrar of motor vehicles and another Patrick appointee, did not rule out interest in the seat when reached by phone Tuesday.
Other lawmakers or former lawmakers warranting mention include state Senator Eileen Donoghue, Charles A. Murphy, former House Ways and Means chairman, and state Representative David Linsky.
As much as the Middlesex district attorney’s position has acted as a feeder to the state’s top prosecutorial role, the ascent has often ended there. Harshbarger and Reilly waged unsuccessful campaigns for governor, and Coakley famously lost a Senate race to Brown in 2010.
Leone said Tuesday that he had conversations with Patrick about his impending career move, but said he did not make any recommendations about a possible successor.
“There are certain aspects which [are] attractive, meeting people, serving people,” Leone said of the job. “I have to say the party politics, the large P politics, was never really an interest of mine, personally.”
He said three cases his office prosecuted last month offer “a snapshot of the type of things I’m most proud of.” A 70-year-old Everett man was found guilty of shooting his former wife to death, a 20-year-old Wayland man was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend, and a Framingham man estranged from his wife received life in prison without parole for fatally stabbing her during an argument about the paternity of her newborn.
“The cases that stick out [are] the ones where victimization is underscored,” he said, adding, “Any time that you’ve had murders, you’re talking about the epitome of victimization, because you’re speaking for people that literally have no voice.”
Elected to the post in 2006, when Coakley won her seat, Leone was a first assistant US attorney in Massachusetts. In that role, he prosecuted Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” and codefendant Sajid Badat.
Leone was also chief of the criminal bureau of the state attorney general’s office and, as an assistant district attorney, helped lead the prosecution of Louise Woodward, the British nanny convicted of killing 8-month-old Matthew Eappen.