Letting the DA skate

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  June 20, 2007

After eight uneventful years on the City Council, Conley’s next opportunity came when DA Ralph Martin retired in early 2002, leaving then-governor Jane Swift to appoint a temporary replacement. Conley used his relationships with former governor Paul Cellucci’s inner circle, particularly probate register and former Cellucci chief of staff James Michael Connolly, to help secure Swift’s nomination, according to political observers.

As part of his maneuvers to land the appointment, Conley also made a deal to remove Michael Flaherty from competition for the job, by helping to elect him council president, even though he had promised his vote to Maureen Feeney, say two councilors from the time.

The appointment gave Conley the advantage of incumbency for that November’s election, though he was still in danger of losing the Democratic primary to Brian Honan. But Honan died that summer. Even some Conley supporters believe Honan would have won; regardless, after his death, it was too late for another Democrat to enter the race. Conley then needed only to defeat un-enrolled candidates Eddie Jenkins and Bill Sinnott, which he did handily with 61 percent of the vote.

Up for re-election in 2006, during a 10-year high in murders and a corresponding nadir in arrest rates, Conley ran un-opposed. Several City Hall veterans say that Sheriff Andrea Cabral was planning to run against Conley. A black protégé of Republican Ralph Martin, with solid support among progressives and women, and the backing of Ted Kennedy, Cabral would have been a formidable candidate. But the effort was aborted when she faced perjury accusations in a federal suit that involved a jail nurse-turned-whistleblower. Again, by the time Cabral decided to back out, it was too late for anyone else to make a run.

As it became apparent this past year that Conley — who is said to be arrogant and petty — would win another four-year term, the already high departure rate of prosecutors and staff increased. According to one former prosecutor, this was, at least in part, due to “Conley fatigue.”

Conley expects people to treat him like an A-list Boston political figure — but he’s the only one who thinks he is one, a local political insider says.

Office morale took another significant dip, according to more than one close observer, when staff salaries were recently posted on the Boston Herald’s online database.

It turns out that, while Conley frequently blames problems on the inadequate funding of his office and his underpaid prosecutors — who start at $35,000 salaries — he has been spending top dollar on his non-legal administrative aides. His chief of staff, John Towle, a former Menino speechwriter, makes $105,000, and Luciano Petruzziello, director of administration and finance, makes nearly that much, putting their salaries well ahead of even the most experienced attorneys in the office. At least four more administrators earn more than $65,000.

Particularly miffed are the female prosecutors in the office, who got to see in stark terms how little their services are valued in an office where the top 17 salaried employees are men, and most of the top female earners are administrators or victim advocates, not prosecutors. Female attorneys who rise through the Suffolk DA’s ranks are almost all placed in the family-protection and sexual-assault units, which turn out to be less financially rewarding than the homicide and major-case career paths.

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