Conley won’t seek reelection as Suffolk DA

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SUFFOLK COUNTY District Attorney Daniel Conley shook up the legal landscape on Tuesday with word that he won’t seek reelection this fall. The news came as a longtime Boston defense attorney was preparing to mount the first challenge to Conley in the 16 years since he won the post in 2002.

“I love the job, the office, its staff, and the people and communities we serve,” Conley said in a statement. “But I have long believed that those of us fortunate enough to lead as elected officials must also be willing to give others the same opportunity.”

Conley indicated that he planned to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends next January.

Conley, who served a decade on the Boston City Council before being elected to the prosecutor’s job, had shown no signs of losing focus on the DA’s post, playing a vocal role in the criminal justice reform debate on Beacon Hill over the last year. As of January 31, his campaign account had a balance of $332,600.

News that Conley will step down came as longtime Boston defense attorney Shannon McAuliffe was laying plans to challenge him this fall, according to sources, and it comes against the backdrop of a national rethinking of criminal justice policies that has included efforts to elect reform-minded district attorneys. Locally, the ACLU of Massachusetts launched a public information campaign earlier this month aimed at increasing awareness of the crucial role played by DAs in the criminal justice system.

CommonWealth called Conley’s office on Tuesday afternoon to ask whether he was seeking reelection and told a spokesman the magazine was preparing a story on McAuliffe’s challenge. Shortly after came word that Conley would not seek another term.

In a run against Conley, McAuliffe was likely to call for a turn away from the traditional tough-on-crime approach employed by many prosecutors. She has emphasized efforts to divert more offenders from incarceration and toward programs with a focus on rehabilitation. She has also raised questions about racial disparities in the criminal justice system, which has seen incarceration rates soar in Massachusetts — and across the country — over the last several decades.

Until recently, McAuliffe directed the Boston office of Roca, a Chelsea-based nonprofit that works with gang- and court-involved young men.

A Suffolk Law School graduate, McAuliffe worked for 15 years as a state and federal public defender, according to an online biography from a Harvard Kennedy School public leadership forum she took part in last year. In 2012, according to the summary, she turned her focus to broader policy issues, enrolling at the Harvard Kennedy School where she obtained a master’s degree in public administration before joining Roca, which works with high-risk young men, employing a range of strategies aimed at helping them maintain employment and avoid incarceration.

McAuliffe was likely to make a formal announcement in the next two weeks. Whether Conley’s decision to step down, which is likely to draw other candidates to the race, will change her plans is unclear. She did not return a message late Tuesday.


Rebecca Rutenberg