A day after the US Senate narrowly confirmed Rachael Rollins as the next US attorney for Massachusetts, attention turned Thursday to her potential successor as Suffolk district attorney.
As speculation swirled in the legal community, Governor Charlie Baker seemed poised to appoint Suffolk’s top prosecutor, who would serve out the final year of Rollins’s term leading up to the 2022 election.
“We had a process associated with this position that actually started last spring when DA Rollins was originally nominated and that process played out over the course of spring and summer,” Baker said at a groundbreaking ceremony for an affordable housing project in Boston.
“We have some very strong candidates who participated in that process and around about the time I get a letter or some communication from the district attorney about her moving to a new position in the US attorney’s office, we’ll make an appointment,” he said.
Rollins was elected in 2018 on a progressive platform, vowing not to prosecute certain low-level crimes and reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Reform advocates are eager for a successor with a similar philosophy, but Baker, a moderate Republican who recently announced he will not seek a third term next year, may opt for a more traditional prosecutor.
Among the experienced prosecutors whose names have circulated as potential successors are Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who crossed party lines to support Baker; Linda Champion, who lost to Rollins in the 2018 Democratic primary; and Rahsaan Hall, an activist in the Black community who works for the ACLU of Massachusetts. All three have worked as Suffolk prosecutors.
In September, Baker administration officials interviewed several candidates, reportedly including Champion and Kevin Hayden, a former prosecutor who now heads the state Sex Offender Registry Board.
Rollins has touted her first assistant, Daniel Mulhern, as her replacement, but he removed himself from consideration several weeks ago and will leave the district attorney’s office after helping with the transition, according to several people familiar with his plans.
Lon F. Povich, Baker’s former chief legal counsel, said that while he didn’t know who Baker planned to nominate, he assumed he would “pick someone to serve in that important role the way that he has served over his seven years, which is thoughtful, hardworking, and in the public interest.”
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said Baker “must appoint a successor who will continue the work to transform our legal system from one rooted in punishment and retribution to one that centers human dignity and public health.”
A former assistant US attorney in Massachusetts, Rollins was nominated by President Biden in July. But her selection drew sharp opposition by Republicans, turning a usually routine confirmation process into a bitter partisan fight.
“Miss Rollins appears to measure success as a prosecutor not by how many victims and innocent people she protects, but rather by how many criminals she keeps from facing consequences,” Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said in September.
But Rollins had broad support from dozens of prominent Massachusetts Republicans, Democrats, law enforcement officials, community advocates, and members of the legal community.
Massachusetts Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, who recommended Rollins be nominated, said in a joint statement after the vote that she “has devoted her career to transforming the criminal justice system so that it actually reduces crime and provides equal justice for all.”
On Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris twice broke deadlocks in the Senate, first on a procedural motion and then on confirmation, to approve Rollins’s nomination. Rollins becomes the first Black woman to serve as the state’s top federal law enforcement official.
“Governor Baker congratulates DA Rollins on her confirmation as the next US Attorney for Massachusetts and looks forward to continuing to work with her,” said Baker’s press secretary, Terry MacCormack, in a statement. “The Governor will make an appointment soon from a pool of qualified applicants to serve as District Attorney in Suffolk County.”
Tonya Alanez and Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.