Search for new US Attorney narrows

President Joe Biden will eventually appoint one of four finalists for the top prosecutorial job in Massachusetts. A look at these individuals reveals a diverse records on addiction and drug law.

The John Joseph Moakley Courthouse looks over the Boston Harbor. This is a court central to the daily work of current and future US Attorneys for Massachusetts. (Photo used under Creative Commons license)

Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey interviewed four candidates, this month, to replace Trump-appointed US Attorney Andrew Lelling as Massachusetts’ top federal prosecutor. 

The list of finalists includes Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Assistant US Attornies Jennifer Serafyn and Deepika Bains Shukla, and Josh Levy, a private lawyer currently working in Boston.

US Attorney choice could impact safe consumption site debate

Whoever ends up with this job will immediately exert a broad influence on a number of addiction related issues, among other things. 

Under Lelling, for example, efforts to create a safe drug consumption site, likely in Boston, proceed under a spectre of certain federal retaliation. Lelling has vowed to use drug war-era federal laws to prosecute anyone who works at, or operates such a facility, even if they have state authorization.

While those laws won’t go anywhere any time soon, a new US Attorney will have some discretion on whether or not they take a safe consumption site to court. 

Finalists bring diverse backgrounds in drug law, litigation

As broader experiences handling drug cases go, these finalists bring long resumes.

  • Serafyn specifically heads the civil rights unit of the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office, under Andrew Lelling. In that role, back in 2014, she notably helped defend an addiction caregiver at a Massachusetts VA hospital after a former patient alleged malpractice and sexual misconduct. 

    In a case full of stories of relapse and trauma, a district court judge ruled in favor of Serafyn and her VA client, denying that patient’s charges. 

  • Bains Shukla heads the US Attorney's office in Springfield, under Lelling, and has prosecuted a number of drug cases during her tenure. Those include a 2018 case where she helped send a man to jail for importing vast quantities of illegal prescription drugs from Pakistan. 

    A year later, she was the lead prosecutor on a smaller scale drug trafficking case where a woman brought a friend with her to Jamaica to then smuggle small bags of cocaine back to the US.

    According to a US Attorney’s office statement, Shukla pushed for a year of prison time for this woman. A judge, however, accepted a guilty plea and released the defendant before him with a sentence of “time served” and three years of probation. 

  • Levy has defended largely white-collar private companies and individuals since he left a career as an Assistant District Attorney and, later as an Assistant US Attorney in Massachusetts. His docket of recent clients includes multiple big pharmaceutical companies accused of wrongdoing. 

  • Rollins has a record of progressive drug policy decisions. She’s opted for leniency in some prosecutorial cases and has outright criticized policing seen as indiscriminate in its punishment of people battling addiction. 

    Initially seen as a frontrunner for the US Attorney’s job, things got complicated, this month, after an alleged road rage incident involving Rollins. 

    According to stories first published by the blog Turtleboy Sports and the first responder focused site LiveBoston.617, Rollins flashed police sirens, blew through a red light and threatened legal retaliation against a woman who tried to merge lanes in front of her.

    State Attorney General Maura Healy is now investigating the case. 

    Rollins has denied all accusations, making one particularly sarcastic comment to the radio host Howie Carr about the South Bay Mall where this all took place. 

    “I apparently spend my time patrolling the South Bay Mall with my lights and siren on. Have you ever been?” she said. “It is a haven for emotionally disturbed people and people with substance abuse disorder. I made the bad mistake of going to Stop & Shop that day.”

    The South Bay Mall is less than a mile down Mass Ave. from the troubled Mass and Cass region that serves as the epicenter of the local addiction crisis. 

Senators, search committee eye fast track towards final selections

The US Attorney’s job is generally one that cycles with presidential administrations. As President Joe Biden now sets up his administration, he’ll likely be nominating whichever candidate Warren and Markey recommend to him. These names in turn come via a group commissioned by Warren and Markey to narrow the field for them. 

“We were acting quickly because the White House counsel wanted names right away,” Nancy Gertner, the former judge in charge of that group, told the Boston Globe, this week. “...We worked through the holidays. We made our selections.”

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