Donna in the News
Ryan facing spirited challenge with calls for reform in the air
By Michael Jonas
August 3rd, 2018
DONNA PATALANO, who is challenging incumbent Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, looks like exactly the right candidate at the right time.
The Winchester attorney is pushing a strong reform platform focused on addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system and the need to rethink policies of the tough-on-crime era of the 1980s and 90s. It should be a particularly appealing message in the liberal-leaning county, and it comes amidst a reform wave that has states and communities across the country looking to new approaches that can protect public safety while lowering incarceration rates.
The biggest challenge for Patalano’s reform message? She’s up against a sitting district attorney who has positioned herself as a progressive leader on those very issues, someone who has bucked her fellow DAs by embracing reforms that they opposed.
The result is a lively Democratic primary face-off for an important office, but one that lacks some of the sharp contrasts that let voters draw clear distinctions between candidates, a dynamic that will probably play to Ryan’s advantage.
What Ryan calls the record of a “proven progressive,” however, Patalano calls the moves of a savvy operator who is adapting to the changing political winds.
“She’s definitely moving to the left after she was challenged by me, but that kind of lip service isn’t enough,” said Patalano, who pointed to Ryan’s move in January to end the practice of asking for cash bail in routine cases involving low-level offenses. “We need a different perspective. My opponent has been a prosecutor since Jimmy Carter was president.”
Ryan is a career prosecutor who joined the Middlesex DA’s office in 1979 and has directed several units there during that time.
Patalano has had a more varied career. She worked in health care management before going to law school while in her 30s. She has served as a defense lawyer, chaired the state board of bar overseers, which monitors the conduct of lawyers, and worked in the Suffolk County DA’s office, where she developed the office’s first conviction integrity unit that reviews possible wrongful convictions.
By Dirk Stryker
August 2nd, 2018
The primary election race for Middlesex County District Attorney moved into high gear on Tuesday, July 24, with a very informative debate between incumbent Marian Ryan and challenger Donna Patalano. Each of these candidates claims to be a progressive, and they share the same position on a number of issues, but there are several essential differences between them. Marian Ryan has worked as a prosecutor for close to 40 years, most of it in the Middlesex County DA’s office. She was first appointed as district attorney in 2013 and then elected in 2014. In the debate, she emphasized her experience in Middlesex County, her connections with many people of different persuasions, and her ability to get things done.
Donna Patalano first had a 10-year career in health care management and then started law school in her 30s. She joined the Suffolk County DA’s office as assistant district attorney and then moved on to become defense attorney for people who could not afford to hire a lawyer. Here she experienced much of the dark side of the criminal justice system. Alarmed at what she saw, she returned to the Suffolk County DA’s office as chief of professional integrity and ethics, where she trained hundreds of prosecutors in the furtherance of justice. Appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court as chair of the board of bar overseers, she presided over cases of prosecutorial misconduct. This career path revealed to her a judicial system that is broken, where the pain felt by victims and offenders alike is distributed very unequally by race, ethnicity and age.
The debate revealed that the two candidates differ other ways as well. Marian Ryan gives more weight to personal contact. To first-hand observation and direct communication. Donna Patalano wants to see the numbers. What is the impact of racial bias on sentencing in the courtroom? Does diversion in lieu of incarceration reduce recidivism? Why have more people been incarcerated pre-trial rather than post-trial in Middlesex County? How have these numbers changed now that low-level, nonviolent offenses are supposed to be exempted from cash bail. There is currently an enormous lack of data in the criminal justice system, especially at the district attorney level. There is also a lack of transparency and public access to what is available.
But make up your own mind. Watch the debate at http://acmi.tv/videos/middlesex-county-district-attorney-governers-council-candidate-debate, or ACMI TV.
Dirck Stryker, Bartlett Avenue
By Joe Walsh
July 25th, 2018
On Sept. 4, voters in Middlesex County will choose a candidate for district attorney from either incumbent. Marian Ryan or challenger Donna Patalano. The winner will move on to the general election in November. According to the secretary of state’s office, there is no Republican running for Middlesex DA.
Ryan and Patalano largely agree in principle but diverge somewhat on implementation on the issues of restorative justice and equity,
During a debate at Arlington’s First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church Tuesday evening – hosted by the ACLU and the Leagues of Women Voters of Arlington, Lexington, and Winchester, and the Mass Incarceration Working Group of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington – the two candidates had a chance to make their cases to an audience of more than 180 people.
Ryan argued her five-year track record as DA has made the county a statewide leader in restoration and prevention, while Patalano focused on longstanding inequities in the criminal justice system and insisted on greater transparency with results and data.
Both candidates reinforced their progressive credentials, drawing upon past advocacy for reform. Ryan – a longtime attorney in the Middlesex DA’s office before ascending to District Attorney – called herself a “proven progressive.” Patalano – who has served both as a prosecutor for the Suffolk County DA and as a defense attorney – promised to leverage data and her experience to effect “transformative and transparent change.”
Amid focus on criminal justice reform, Massachusetts district attorney races draw more candidates, attention in 2018
July 9th, 2018
By Shira Schoenberg
There is also a national trend toward rethinking tough-on-crime policies. In Philadelphia, progressive Larry Krasner was elected district attorney in 2017 on a platform of ending mass incarceration. In 2016, Kim Foxx, a Democratic former Planned Parenthood board chairwoman, was elected district attorney in Chicago. She has made a point of focusing on more serious crimes rather than smaller crimes like shoplifting, which mostly ensnare poor individuals.
Several Massachusetts candidates are coming from a progressive political bent, with a focus on rehabilitation, diversion and treatment of underlying problems like substance abuse.
"The idea that all we've asked of DAs in the past is to be law-and-order candidates, that's a failed experiment," said Patalano, the challenger in Middlesex County. "People now are demanding to have a justice system that can function as the moral backbone of our government."
Patalano said she was inspired to run by Krasner's election and by work done by MassINC, a Boston-based think tank that supports criminal justice reform.
"People are disillusioned. They have come to appreciate that the system is broken," Patalano said.
Her platform is focused on transparency in the district attorney's office, particularly with regard to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
"We have a justice system that treats different people differently," Patalano said. "Until we elect DAs willing to acknowledge that and address disparities, it's not going to change."
The case also led to friction between the city and prosecutors in the Middlesex district attorney’s office, who told city officials they could not investigate DiFronzo, citing a conflict of interest because he had worked closely with several senior prosecutors, according to the internal documents. A spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said DiFronzo was also a witness in the ongoing case against Machado.
Middlesex referred the case to the attorney general’s office, which ultimately declined to charge DiFronzo.
City officials said they felt “abandoned” by Middlesex prosecutors, who also declined to testify in the hearing against DiFronzo. The spokeswoman for the Middlesex DA told the Globe the office does not participate in other agencies’ personnel matters.
Ryan, who is up for reelection, was criticized Wednesday by her opponent, Democrat Donna Patalano, who said the case showed the need for an official policy that explains how prosecutors choose which cases of alleged police misconduct to investigate.
“The lack of an existing formal investigation procedure, developed before we’re confronted by disturbing incidents, is troubling,” Patalano said. “A written protocol for investigations involving conflicts of interest and officer-involved use-of-force is a best practice. Such a policy protects both the public and law enforcement because it provides a credible, transparent process for all parties.”
Ryan’s office declined to comment on that statement.
May 2nd, 2018
LOWELL -- Middlesex District Attorney candidate Donna Patalano blasted the incumbent Marian Ryan in a Sun Editorial Board meeting last week, labeling the office a "black box" when it comes to releasing such data as pretrial incarcerations, who is prosecuted versus who is diverted, the outcomes of diversion programs and the details of how her just under $17 million budget is spent.
By law, district attorneys aren't required to release this information, Patalano said, but she believes greater transparency and accountability are needed.
Middlesex has a great Drug Court, but no data is released about who gets to benefit from it, said Patalano, a Winchester Democrat who seeks to unseat Ryan.
"Do I know if the kid from Lowell is getting the same fair treatment as the kid from Weston?" Patalano said in a Thursday editorial board meeting with The Sun. "Absolutely not, and neither do you."
"We track case-related information internally and report numerous sets of data to the Legislature annually. We recognize the important role data plays in understanding the criminal justice system and we have been working with the Legislature to expand and improve this process," Ryan spokeswoman Meghan Kelly said in response to Patalano's "black box comments. "The data collection provisions of the Criminal Justice Reform law are a critical step toward this goal. There will be a significant financial cost for these statewide system updates.
We will work with the Legislature and the Governor's Office to secure funding for this important initiative."
A former assistant district attorney under Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, Patalano said Middlesex County deserves a district attorney who will lead the conversation on equitable criminal justice reform and isn't afraid to "shine a bright light" on racial disparities in the justice system.
WINCHESTER — Democratic candidate for District Attorney Donna Patalano, of Winchester, announced her plan to draw on the latest medical and psychological research to improve outcomes for young adults involved in the criminal justice system.
The proposed Juvenile & Emerging Adult Bureau will bring together social workers, victim witness advocates, and assistant district attorneys in specialized units. Lawyers and staff will be trained to understand and utilize evidence that brain development continues through adolescence and into early adulthood.
“The criminal justice bill released from committee last week unfortunately does not include raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction,” Patalano said. “Creating this Bureau will give us the chance to make a real difference for young adults, their families, and our communities by providing developmentally appropriate interventions to young adults. This work must be a priority.”
The Juvenile & Emerging Adult Bureau will include four components that maximize the ability to rehabilitate young people under the age of 25. In addition to prioritizing the use of diversion and restorative justice, the Bureau will collect data at every point of a young person’s interaction with the criminal justice system to ensure equity and fairness in prosecutions, and allow communities to hold the office accountable to those goals.
“This proposal is a much-needed innovation supported by the best research in brain science and adolescent and young adult development." said Dr. Robert Kinscherff, a forensic psychologist on the faculty of William James College and the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Prioritizing diversion and restorative justice for young adults presents a great opportunity to reduce criminal recidivism and promote community safety."
Priorities for the new bureau will include:
• Data Collection: We cannot correct inequity in the system if we cannot identify the source. The Bureau will collect data to ensure equity, establish a new norm for decision-making informed by data, and welcome accountability.
• Supporting Victims: As a key component of initial case screening, Bureau staff will assess whether victims are eligible for assistance from the Victim Witness Fund. The Bureau will also work with victims to ensure that their needs are met throughout investigation and prosecution or diversion of the case.
• Improving Outcomes: Recidivism is more likely to be reduced when interventions are evidence-based and outcomes are measured. Bureau staff will work with researchers and experts in the field to identify programs that work to put offenders on course for productive lives, and will assess impact on a yearly basis to determine the 1, 3, and 5 year rates of recidivism.
• Effective Screening: Case screening is an early opportunity to disrupt the cycle of recidivism. Bureau screenings will follow a validated rubric to reduce the impact of implicit bias. Screenings will determine whether a prosecution or diversion is the most appropriate next step.
• Community Collaboration: To ensure success, the Bureau will further develop and expand partnerships with community-based organizations. Dedicated staff will work with partners to write for grants and dedicate resources to evidence-based programs.
“Too many young people in Middlesex County are being incarcerated. A young person’s prospects to obtain an education, a job, or housing are severely limited by a criminal record and a history of incarceration,” said Patalano. “Because the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts minority communities, the incarceration of young people hits these communities hardest. As District Attorney, I will prioritize this work to ensure that the young adult in Lowell is receiving the same fair treatment as the one in Weston.”
A former defense attorney and past chair of the Board of Bar Overseers, Patalano left her most recent position as the Chief of Professional Ethics and Integrity in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in November. Patalano and her husband live in Winchester, where they raised their three children.
Winchester’s Donna Patalano wants to bring transparency to the Middlesex DA’s office
by: Mariya Manzhos
When Donna Patalano looks back at the proudest moments of her career, she thinks of Frederick Clay, a Roslindale man who was convicted of murder at 16 years old and, despite maintaining his innocence, ended up in prison for 38 years. Then an assistant district attorney at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, Patalano took on Clay’s case as part of the Conviction Integrity Program she developed to investigate claims of innocence. In a hearing last year, a judge vacated Clay’s conviction setting him free, a moment that brought into focus for Patalano the life-changing impact a district attorney’s office can have.
“That’s really what we’re supposed to do as prosecutors is to work in the furtherance of justice, not just get a conviction,” said Patalano, a longtime Winchester resident.
Seeing both sides of a case
On Sept. 4, Patalano will challenge Marian Ryan in the Democratic primary for Middlesex County District Attorney. Ryan, the only female district attorney in the Commonwealth, was widely criticized for her handling of the 2014 Jared Remy murder case and for failing to release the details of an investigative report into the case. In the 2014 election, her opponent criticized what he described as her harsh management style. With Suffolk County DA Dan Conley’s recent announcement that he will not seek reelection, and other candidates challenging incumbents in Massachusetts, Patalano says, the time is ripe for new, progressive leaders to come forward.