New D.A. Anthony Gulluni Makes His Case
Anthony Gulluni says he was in Boston recently for a meeting of the state’s district attorneys and district attorneys-elect — he’s in that latter category, having won the position in Hampden County in September.
And he noted that he was subjected to more than a few not-unexpected cracks about his age.
“Someone said I brought down the median age by 20 years, or something like that — there were quite a few jokes,” said Gulluni, who turned 34 in October, looks even younger, and is believed to be one of the youngest district attorneys — if not the youngest — in the state’s history.
While he takes the ribbing in stride, he makes it clear that he intends to have people talking about something other than his age — and soon.
Indeed, Gulluni, who will be sworn in early next month and has been hard at work on transition matters for several weeks now, has some ambitious plans for his office. Specifically, and repeatedly, he talked about fighting crime not only in the courtroom, where he intends to be much of the time, but outside it as well.
“We have a fundamental obligation to work with police departments and prosecute cases in the courtroom and keep people safe,” he explained. “But it’s a two-phase approach; there’s prevention, education, and addressing core issues such as mental health and substance abuse. But there’s also performing that fundamental function of the D.A.’s office — promoting public safety by prosecuting cases.”
Elaborating, he stressed that the D.A.’s mission to serve the public means working to assist not only the victims of crimes, but, when possible and when appropriate, those committing them as well.
“I see this as a position in which I’m serving the public; I’m serving the people of Hampden County and promoting public safety and ensuring criminal justice,” he explained. “There’s a great responsibility with that criminal-justice part, where serving people means serving the defendants that come into that courthouse.
“It’s very often overlooked that we have such impact on those people’s lives — and very often they’re repairable lives,” he went on. “All but a very, very small percentage of these defendants are people we’re not looking to save in some way or improve. And this goes into the job of being a district attorney and being a prosecutor, especially at those lower levels in Juvenile Court and District Court, where the focus should be, and often is, on rehabilitation.”
Gulluni told BusinessWest that he has a number of priorities for the months and years to come. They include everything from lobbying the state’s elected leaders for funding he said would be commensurate with the size of the county’s courts and their volume levels (more on that later) to creation of a new position, one dedicated to what amounts to public relations and telling the mostly unknown story of what the D.A.’s office does within, and for, the community.
And he will place heavy emphasis on stemming the tide of gun violence in the county and especially its two largest communities, Springfield and Holyoke.
“I’ve handled a lot of gun cases, and I think it’s the scourge of urban America,” he said. “Very literally, guns are necessary components in the street violence and many of our murders. An emphasis has been placed on prosecution of defendants with illegal guns, and this emphasis will continue. It’s a major problem, especially in Springfield, and there’s a trio that often travels together — guns, drugs, and gangs — and this is manifesting itself in the deaths of a lot of young people and the destruction of countless lives.”
For this issue and its focus on law, BusinessWest talked at length with Gulluni about his new position, the philosophy he brings to it, and his goals for his office and the diverse county it serves.
Law and Order
When asked why he joined the D.A.’s office and later chose to try and lead it, Gulluni started by talking about his father, Frank, and the legacy he left in public service.
“My father worked very hard for many, many years to help people, essentially, and was a public servant in the truest sense of the word,” he explained, noting that his father founded and then managed the Mass. Career Development Institute (MCDI) for roughly a quarter-century, until the late ’90s. “That record of service certainly influenced me. He helped thousands and thousands of people; I really learned a lot from that, and this passion for public service was ingrained upon me as a young person watching him help so many people.”That fondness for public service is reflected in his career path following graduation from Western New England University School of Law. After first serving as a law clerk in the Springfield Law Department and then as an assistant city solicitor, he joined then-District Attorney Bill Bennett’s team as an assistant D.A. in June 2009.
He said that both Bennett and his successor, Mark Mastroianni, served not only as mentors, but, like his father, as individuals who embodied the importance of public service.
“I had great mentors in that particular job,” he told BusinessWest. “But once I started in that office, I realized a love for the job because of the work, particularly the trial work, but moreso the public-service side of it and the impact that we as prosecutors have on individuals, particularly the individuals who come into the courthouse and those whose cases we prosecute, and those victims who are involved in the cases we prosecute.
“And because I live in the county and especially a place like Springfield, I also realize the impact that the office has collectively, and that we have individually as prosecutors, on the communities we serve in Hampden County,” he continued. “That was a source of great pride; I had opportunities to leave, and thought about it, but ultimately I stayed because I loved what I was doing.”
Soon after Mastroianni was appointed to a federal judgeship, Gulluni announced he would seek to succeed him as the region’s top prosecutor. He said his triumph over three opponents in the Democratic primary in September (there were no Republican candidates) was verification that he made the right career decision.
“If I lost, I think that would have shown that I was wrong in seeking the office at this time,” he said. “To win by a resounding margin in a four-person race really answered the question of whether I chose right, whether my sense was right, and whether my reasons were right.
“The way in which I ran my campaign was a manifestation of my reasons for running,” he went on. “And that was to show people that I care about the community. I’m a lifelong Forest Park resident, and I’ve been in the county my whole life, I was educated in this county, and I have a familial background in public service.”
As an assistant under Bennett and Mastroianni, Gulluni said he gained invaluable experience in the courtroom — which was another motivation for making that career transition — but also developed an appreciation for the many kinds of rewards that come from assisting the victims of crimes.
“Those are the cases I remember, the ones where someone was victimized and who was looking to me, the prosecutor, to bring some sense of satisfaction, maybe, or some sense of wholeness or repair for what happened to them,” he noted, adding that this category of crime includes everything from gun offenses to many OUI cases, to instances of breaking and entering. “That’s a solemn responsibility I always took very seriously. But in some cases, you let people down or you could never really satisfy them, which is understandable.
“However I could help that person in the healing process was always of great satisfaction to me,” he went on. “Sometimes you do let people down — maybe they’re unsatisfied with the sentence, or the case could not go forward — and that’s an inevitable part of the system, but I always worked as hard as I could to make people happy and give them a sense of closure.”
Looking ahead, while also surveying the county and assessing the issues confronting it, Gulluni expects his office and its staff of 160, including 65 lawyers, will be busy not only assisting victims and providing that sense of closure, but also working to limit and perhaps reduce their numbers.
And, as he stated earlier, a critical piece of this assignment is work to rehabilitate, or save, the defendants in such cases.
“My focus is going to be especially on people who are suffering from mental and substance-abuse issues,” he told BusinessWest. “We need to address those core issues and give these people a hand. Very often there’s some punishment that goes with that, and this goes with the territory, but we’re looking to help some of those people we can help and who have issues — with crime being an outgrowth of those core issues.
“And if we can address those core issues, we’re acting in that humanitarian way by trying to help those people,” he continued. “But we’re also being fiscally prudent as well, understanding that the initial investment in these people hopefully will prevent future expenditures in terms of prosecution, probation, and incarceration if things were to continue in that way.”
As an example, he cited the national, and regional, problem of opiate addiction. The numbers of those who become addicted to painkillers and potent drugs such as heroin are rising at alarming rates, and with this surge comes criminal activity on many levels as individuals struggle to feed their addiction.
“We have to fight this inside the courtroom and outside it,” said Gulluni. “It comes to us as a criminal-justice issue, but it’s really a health issue. These people dealing with mental-health and substance-abuse issues are coming to us with the outgrowth of their problem — the commission of a crime — but that underlying issue is a health issue. Whether we’re equipped to our not, we have to deal with this issue and make a difference through whatever means we have. It’s going to be my obligation to better prepare and treat those issues through cooperative arrangements with nonprofits and outside agencies, but also with the trial court and the probation department.”
To this end, a so-called Veterans Court is being established through a pilot program to deal with individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues, he said, and, likewise, a drug court is being considered to identify and handle cases where there are no real victims of the crimes in question, other than those suffering from addiction, and such individuals do not have a significant criminal history.
Such facilities, similar to a mental-health court already in existence, would enable prosecutors to take such cases out of the mainstream criminal-justice system and deal with them in a specialized way, Gulluni went on, adding that a drug court has been discussed for some time now, and he intends to make it a priority of his administration.
There are other priorities, as well, and Gulluni and has transition team have been addressing them since the end of what the D.A.-elect called a “time to rehabilitate” and then a “thank-you tour” that followed the election.
One of the first matters to be considered is personnel, said Gulluni, adding that the process of assembling his team is ongoing and will continue for some time.
Meanwhile, another priority is forging relationships with elected officials, with the goal of communicating the need for more funding and, hopefully, seeing that need addressed.
“We’re going to work hard to bring in as much money as we can,” he noted. “For fiscal year 2013, we were the fifth of the 11 districts in the Commonwealth in terms of funding, and our Superior Court during that time period disposed of the most cases of any district. Our District Court is among the busiest in the state; the volume is there, but the funding is not commensurate with the work that we’re doing.”
While funding is indeed tight, he will strive to find room in his budget for a professional to work with the media to better tell the story of what the D.A.’s office does, how, and why.
“We haven’t had such a person in a long time, and we need one,” he explained. “It’s a positive thing for us and a positive thing for transparency, most importantly. We’re accessible — this is essentially the people’s office, and we’re prosecuting on behalf of the people of Hampden County, and I’m beholden to them, so being able to communicate readily with members of the press is very important.
“Whether you’re in business or in the public sector, you want to get your message out,” he went on. “You want to show people what you’re doing and show them that what you’re doing is positive and impactful. It’s not just putting a face on the office — it’s preventing crime.”
Beyond greater exposure, Gulluni wants the D.A.’s office to be more visible and more active in the community, especially when it comes to young people and keeping them from taking the wrong path.
“We need to get in front of young people and send a message that there are things they have to avoid, especially in the urban atmosphere,” he said. “If we can get to some kids before they fall into that trap of crime, street violence, gangs, guns, and drugs, we might be able to keep them from getting into trouble.”
When asked if he thought he’d be in the D.A.’s office long enough to be on the other end of jokes about 30-something prosecutors, Gulluni laughed before explaining that he’s focused now on the weeks and months ahead, not a few decades down the road.
He said he expects to serve in this office for at least two four-year terms, and hinted that his stay might be considerably longer.
At the moment, his only commitment is to the people of Hampden County and his pledge to fight crime inside the courtroom and out.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]