Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley surprised political observers Wednesday when he announced that he’s stepping down from his post a few months ahead of schedule to take a job at a prominent Boston law firm.
During an afternoon press conference packed with his top staffers and three other state district attorneys, Conley said he’s resigning Sept. 26 from the job he’s held for 16 years and taking a position at the powerhouse firm of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovesky and Popeo.
The high-profile prosecutor and former Boston city councilor became emotional as he told reporters that serving the residents of Suffolk County has been “a rare and privileged opportunity.”
“I have been blessed to pursue justice on their behalf,” Conley said, adding that he’s drawn inspiration from crime victims’ “grace in the face of unspeakable loss. . . . I will carry their wisdom and their kindness and their faith in me wherever I go.”
Conley, whose office has prosecuted some of the state’s most sensational cases in recent years, including the double-murder trial of Aaron Hernandez and death of 2-year-old Bella Bond, on Wednesday highlighted less-heralded initiatives that he said made his office “more accurate, more effective, and more fair.”
Among those initiatives were the overturning and prevention of wrongful convictions, ethics training on turning over discovery evidence to defense counsel, and “the most transparent approach” in the country to briefing the public on officer-involved shootings, Conley said.
He also touted the office’s efforts to help victims of child abuse and trafficking, the ample funds spent protecting witnesses, and programs to divert juveniles out of the criminal justice system.
These efforts, Conley said, have led to a significant drop in violent crime and a corresponding drop in incarceration, and “none of this would have been possible” without the support of his staff, police officials in Boston, Revere, and Chelsea, elected leaders, and the nonprofit sector.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh praised Conley in a statement released after the news conference. “Dan is a committed, hard-working district attorney,” said Walsh, a former mayoral campaign rival of Conley’s. “I wish him all the best going forward and thank Dan for his many years of service.”
Conley said Governor Charlie Baker will appoint an interim replacement to serve out the last few months of the term, before the new district attorney is sworn in in January.
A spokeswoman for Baker gave no indication whom he may tap for the interim job when reached Wednesday for comment, releasing a statement that said the governor “congratulates District Attorney Conley on his distinguished career in public service and will make an appointment in the near future to ensure continuity in the office for the remainder of the term.”
Local clergy also had kind words for Conley.
“It is no secret that black and brown people get the brunt of the justice system, but he tried to do everything to make sure our people were treated fairly,” Pastor Thomas Gerald of Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury said.
Vernard Coulter of New Faith Missionary Baptist Church said Conley was responsive to community concerns. On several occasions, the district attorney held meetings with clergy and politicians where he would discuss upticks in street violence.
“He would make sure that we knew the truth on homicides and that his office was doing everything to solve these crimes. He always spoke to us as equals,” Coulter said. “It was important to him, as well as to us, that he was around the table.”
During the news conference, Conley repeatedly praised his staff as the “best and finest public servants” in the state and reiterated his oft-repeated call for higher pay for prosecutors.
His successor, Conley said, would be “very wise to hang onto this crew” when taking office.
Conley’s announcement came one week after Rachael Rollins, a former federal prosecutor and self-described progressive, secured the Democratic Party nomination for DA, topping a crowded field including Greg Henning, a current Suffolk prosecutor who had Conley’s endorsement.
Rollins, who faces independent Mike Maloney in November, said after clinching the nomination that people “want change” and “true criminal justice reform.”
Conley said Wednesday that he didn’t take any campaign criticism of the office personally, telling reporters that “campaign rhetoric is campaign rhetoric.”
“I want Rachael Rollins to succeed if she’s elected,” Conley said. “This is a fabulous office for anyone to take over.”
Drawing comparisons to Bill Belichick, Conley said the Patriots coach frequently says after victories that the team could have played better and “ ‘I could have coached better.’ . . . That’s the culture here. It’s always about improvement.”
In his new job, Conley said, he’ll serve as special counsel in the Mintz Levin litigation section as well as an adviser with ML Strategies, a lobbying firm affiliated with the law office.
He joins a number of public officials who have gone on to jobs at Mintz Levin and ML Strategies, including former state House Ways and Means chairman Brian Dempsey, who attended Wednesday’s news conference to support Conley.
Also in attendance were Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz, and Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe.
Stephen P. Tocco, CEO and chairman of ML Strategies, also spoke during the news conference and showered Conley with praise.
“We’re just thrilled to have him join us,” Tocco said. “He’s bright, he has a tactical mind.”
Asked why he decided to step down early, Conley said he’s “accomplished everything I set out to accomplish” in public life and noted that he and his wife, Tricia, have a vacation planned to visit their daughter in Europe.
Jerome Campbell and Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report.