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Opponents in Berkshire County district attorney race highlight their approaches to criminal justice

Berkshire County Courthouse, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Kenneth C. Zirkel
Creative Commons
Berkshire County Courthouse, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

A virtual forum was held Wednesday night featuring the two Democratic candidates running for Berkshire district attorney.

The Berkshire County branch of the NAACP, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and local chapters of the League of Women Voters sponsored the event. The ACLU gave a presentation on what district attorneys do.

Candidates Andrea Harrington, the incumbent district attorney, and trial lawyer Timothy Shugrue answered questions posed by the public attending the virtual forum. The topics discussed included racial diversity in jury selection, how to attract and retain top-notch legal staff in the Berkshires and a DA's use of dangerousness holds — which can detain people for months without a trial.

One question asked whether a district attorney should notify ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, when an undocumented person might be criminally charged and ICE has issued an administrative warrant.

Shugrue, who worked as an assistant district attorney in Hampden and Berkshire counties, said that depends, in part, on the severity of the crime. For instance, he said if someone is charged with possessing heroin and has a substance abuse problem, ICE should not be notified.

"If it's a major drug dealer armed with weapons and we get a conviction on that then we need to make sure all agencies are properly notified," he said.

Shugrue is against a blanket policy.

In contrast, incumbent DA Andrea Harrington said her office has a "very firm" policy never to cooperate with ICE or notify the agency about cases -- in part so that a case isn't interrupted.

"It's important, when we have a criminal prosecution of a serious case that we be permitted to follow that prosecution through to its conclusion. If ICE finds out about it they could potentially deport that individual prior to our being able to conclude our case," Harrington said.

She added it's not the role of the DA's office to communicate with ICE.

The Berkshire chapter of the NAACP is inviting the candidates to a debate before the Sept. 6 Democratic primary.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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