With Attorney General Martha Coakley running for governor, one of her top aides plans to announce Monday that she will enter the race to replace Coakley in 2014.
Maura T. Healey, who led Coakley’s challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, will bring significant legal experience, but no political background to the contest. A Democrat, she is the first candidate of either party to announce a run for the state’s top legal post.
The field, however, is expected to grow quickly. State Representative Harold P. Naughton, a Clinton Democrat and a major in the Army Reserve, plans to announce this week that he also will run for attorney general, according to an adviser.
Healey, a Charlestown resident, gained notice in legal circles after she spearheaded Coakley’s 2009 lawsuit against the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples by defining marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.
Healey said that case exemplifies the kind of groundbreaking work she would pursue if she is elected to succeed her boss next November.
“The Massachusetts attorney general’s office should continue to lead the nation as a public law firm, and I want to be the attorney general who does that,” she said in an interview. “I have the experience, the judgment, and I have, frankly, the energy, and the passion, and the vision for what that office is, and can be. And that’s why I’m in.”
Healey, 42, will face a daunting task trying to make the leap from inside player in Coakley’s office — where she oversaw 250 lawyers and staff members — to credible candidate for statewide office. The race probably will attract established politicians with more experience in fund-raising and campaigning, skills that will be new to Healey.
“I realize I’m a first-time candidate, and I need to get out and introduce myself to people across the state,” she said. “But I’m confident my work, my work ethic, and my experience will put me ahead of other candidates.”
A native of Hampton Falls, N.H., Healey graduated from Harvard College in 1992. She was cocaptain of the women’s basketball team, which she led to an Ivy League championship in 1991. After graduation, she spent two years playing professional basketball in Europe, as the starting point guard for UBBC Wüstenrot Salzburg in Austria.
After returning to the United States, she graduated from Northeastern University Law School in 1998 and joined the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where she handled business and securities litigation. In 2007, she joined Coakley’s office, eventually rising to chief of two bureaus — business and labor, and public protection and advocacy.
She oversaw cases involving consumer protection, housing, and health care, but it was her work on the marriage case that lifted her profile.
In 2010, she argued the state’s case against the Defense of Marriage Act before US District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro, who less than two months later issued the first ruling in the nation to strike down the law. She also argued the case before a federal appeals court, which upheld Tauro’s decision in 2012.
Ultimately, it was another case that led the US Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in June. But Healey was credited with helping to lay the legal groundwork for that decision, which was a major victory for gay rights.
“She helped all of us take down DOMA,” said Mary L. Bonauto, civil rights project director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. “I’m extremely impressed by her willingness to listen and not talk, and her incredible sense of justice.”
Coakley said in a statement she was thrilled that Healey is running. “Maura Healey has been at the forefront of our office’s efforts to protect consumers and homeowners, level the playing field for workers and businesses, and ensure equality for all,” she said.