Great prosecutors have empathy and enough experience to be passionate advocates for victims of crime.
Great DAs know how to lead an office full of great prosecutors.
On the leadership count, the jury is still out on Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan — mostly due to the high-profile case involving Jared Remy, son of Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy.
Despite a long record of domestic abuse, Jared Remy walked away from court last Aug. 14. The next night he allegedly killed Jennifer Martel, his girlfriend and the mother of their now 5 year-old-year daughter.
After an independent review found deficiencies in the handling of the case, Ryan reluctantly acknowledged her office made a mistake when a prosecutor didn’t ask the judge to hold Remy on charges he beat Martel.
Training wasn’t the problem, the independent review found. Supervision was: “What was missing was attention at the pre-arraignment stage on decision-making,” the report said.
Ryan now says that issue has been fixed — a supervisor now must sign off on any bail decisions made by the assistant DA handling a case.
The assistant DA who made the call on Remy has not been named. Ryan accepted responsibility, but she has failed to address the tragedy in a way that reflects the public’s larger sense of outrage. Maybe it’s prosecutor’s reserve — the professional shield needed to confront the bloody aftermath of countless violent crimes. But now that she’s in charge, the situation demands Ryan demonstrate true introspection about whether her own management style had anything to do with the outcome.
The Remy case should be viewed, Ryan explains, strictly as “a tragic loss of a young mother, a daughter.” As to any political fallout, she says, “I would hope the political effect of it emphasizes the dangers inherent in domestic violence cases, the need for resources. That’s the political piece I would hope comes from it.”
Already, that’s a false hope. Her election opponent, Democrat Michael Sullivan, the Middlesex County clerk of courts and former Cambridge mayor, acknowledges “Remy was a piece” of his decision to jump into the race.
The DA’s job, Sullivan told me, “is a management position . . . It’s about accountability and transparency.” He cites Ryan’s initial resistance to conceding any missteps in the Remy case as well as her refusal to release the full independent review — redacted as needed — as examples of her management flaws.
Ryan suggests she didn’t release the full report out of concern for the defendant’s right to a fair trial; it can be released after that, she says. The trial is now scheduled to begin on October 7, conveniently after the primary election.
Ryan, 59, was appointed to her post a year ago by Governor Deval Patrick after her predecessor left for private practice. She has worked in the same office for 34 years and says she knows what makes it run better than anyone. Her current campaign for Middlesex DA is her first attempt at elected office. Yet so far her campaign is based on two premises that have little to do with the ability to oversee approximately 250 employees, half of whom are prosecutors.
She put out the word that she has empathy because she, too, was once a victim of crime. Years ago, she and her boyfriend were attacked on Memorial Drive. He died, and she still lives with the memories. That’s tragic, but not a qualification to be elected DA.
She also wants people to know she’s committed to the courtroom. After she was tapped for the top job, Ryan retained control over five cases. She is now down to three, which is more than any Middlesex DA in recent memory has taken on. Most delegate all cases to their staff.
“Do you want to be the best trial attorney in the office or do you want to be the leader in the office?” asks Scott Harshbarger, a former Middlesex DA and attorney general who is now chairman of Sullivan’s campaign committee. He says he never personally prosecuted a case as DA.
Ryan responds that she knows how to gauge her workload and doesn’t want to walk away from victims’ families. But there are other signs she needs to focus on the big picture. Last June, the Globe reported that an error made by an administrative assistant in the DA’s office jeopardized at least a dozen child pornography cases in the county.
On its own, that would mean little. But the Remy case magnifies the problem. Any prosecutor in the country may think, there but for the grace of God go I, and they could be right. But in the aftermath, what did you learn? And how did you lead, manage, and inspire from that low point?
That’s the case Ryan has yet to make to the public.