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DA Ryan Facing Challenge from Ex-prosecutor Patalano

August 25, 2018

Seventh and last in a series

By Aaron Curtis

acurtis@lowellsun.com

LOWELL -- Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan or former defense attorney and Suffolk County prosecutor Donna Patalano -- who will be Middlesex County’s next DA?

Ryan has held the seat since April 2013, when then-Gov. Deval Patrick appointed her to fill Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone’s unexpired four-year term.

With an absence of Republican candidates in the 2014 general election, Ryan went on to defeat Michael Sullivan, the Middlesex Clerk of Courts, in that year’s winner-take-all Democratic primary.

“I’m very proud of what we built here,” Ryan said about her time in office. “I am running again to continue that walk -- particularly as it relates to Lowell and the Merrimack Valley area. I’ve spent a lot of time building relationships with the critical stakeholders that are critical to continuing the progress we’ve made. We’ve done a lot in the last five years.”

Patalano resigned from her position as Suffolk County District Attorney’s Chief of Professional Integrity & Ethics to campaign full time for the Middlesex DA position. The Winchester Democrat worked in health-care management before going into law school and spending time as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney.

“When I was a defense attorney, it really opened my eyes,” Patalano said. “I was seeing the justice system through my clients’ perspective. My clients didn’t look like me. They were all black and brown, and I saw and recognized that our justice system treats different people differently.”

During a Sun editorial board meeting in April, Patalano said if she wins the local DA seat, she will form a juvenile and emerging adult bureau as a means to lower recidivism and give young people “a meaningful exit strategy to be a productive member of society.”

Patalano has been critical of Ryan throughout her campaign, saying transformative change is needed in the DA’s Office. During the editorial meeting, Patalano labeled the office as a “black box” when it comes to releasing such data as pretrial incarcerations, who is prosecuted versus who is diverted and the outcomes of diversion programs.

District attorneys aren’t required to release the information by law, but Patalano said she believes in transparency and accountability.

“Right now the justice system in Middlesex County is operating in a black hole, and I think we need to shine a bright light on it, so we make sure we have a justice system that doesn’t treat different people differently,” Patalano said.

Ryan called it disingenuous to say a lack of data released by her office is unique to Middlesex County, noting the ability to gather data isn’t available statewide.

The Belmont resident added she has built a partnership with Northeastern Criminal Justice Bureau and with the American Institute of Research to build databases. She expects the data will show there are some inequities.

“I’ve been addressing those inequities,” Ryan said. “I’m not waiting for the data to show me there’s an inequity.”

As a young lawyer in 1980, Ryan was the victim of a violent armed robbery that resulted in the murder of her then-boyfriend.

“There is no one who has a better sense than I do of the needs and appreciates the needs of victims,” said Ryan, highlighting her office’s victim witness bureau and pro-bono lawyer program.

Ryan has become involved in educating senior citizens through classes regarding financial scams. She has also talked to children about topics such as swimming and back-to-school safety.

“As important as prosecution is to us, as I say often, prevention and education is better,” Ryan said. “It’s better if you never become the victim or you never witness a crime or you never get involved in criminal activity, so I spend a lot of my time in the community providing education.”

Both candidates referenced the opioid crises as a top-challenge to the DA’s office.

Ryan points to last year’s numbers showing the fatal overdoses in Lowell going down slightly more than 20 percent, which she said her office played a part in.

Patalano referenced the numbers released by Trinity EMS that showed the 99 opioid-related calls in July were 10 more than the next highest month since the company started tracking the numbers in January 2013.

“What can the district attorney do about that?” Patalano said. “What’s happening in the courtroom? Who gets access to drug court to try to get healthy through programs put in place where the DA helps people get out of the grip of addiction? Is it the kid in Lowell or the businessman in Weston? Go sit in drug court, and I think you’ll see more people who have resources in the drug court than not. If something works, shouldn’t everybody in Middlesex County have access to that?”

The winner of the Sept. 4 Democratic primary between Ryan and Patalano will be the only name on the ballot during the November general election. As in 2014, there will be no Republican candidates running for the seat, though write-in candidates will be allowed.

Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis

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