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A Candidacy from the Community…

Linda Stec DiSanti (Facebook)

WEST SPRINGFIELD—If you are going to run for office for the first time, it helps to have a base ready to line up behind you.  When Hampden County Clerk of Courts Brian Lees announced his retirement and Linda Stec DiSanti, one of four Democrats who stepped up, announced her candidacy, she already had a base.  On full display at candidate events, DiSanti’s has been a campaign of community.

DiSanti, a Legal Adminstrator from Chicopee who runs the day-to-day of her husband and son’s law practice in West Springfield, has benefited greatly from her community work as she became a candidate for the first time.  At a forum at Central High School, the largest group of supporters or at least the most enthusiastic, appeared to be DiSanti’s.

A mother of one and a grandmother of two, DiSanti has drawn from a well of support through her church and her advocacy a decade ago for auto insurance reform.  She has also worked with the USO and this year joined her local Democratic organization in Chicopee.

Her community support is one thing.  For DiSanti, the decision to run was a huge shift from her current job at the family law firm, but a perfect fit for her skills, she says.  In the office, she manages the finances, directs the staff and ensures that work on behalf of clients remains within the statutes of limitations.  At the same time, “I will miss working with my family,” she says referring not only to her husband and son, but her staff as well, who along with the DiSantis are prominently displayed in pictures in a hallway.

Among DiSanti’s community activities has been calling bingo (Facebook)

DiSanti’s firm has a general practice, which has exposed her to a wide spectrum of the law.  However, the firm will call in specialty lawyers with whom they consult and collaborate on subjects that require more expertise.

DiSanti is one of four Democrats vying for the party’s nomination in the Clerk’s race.  The others are Springfield at-large Councilor Thomas Ashe, assistant Clerk of Courts Laura Gentile and Ludlow attorney John DaCruz.  No Republicans or Independents have filed meaning that the Democratic primary will likely settle who will become the next Clerk.

The approach of the candidates have varied considerably with a sharper divergence coming out between those that have run for office and those that have not.  Ashe and DaCruz have offered more transformative changes, while Gentile and DiSanti have offered more guarded promises of advocacy and reform.  In DiSanti’s case that also is part of her argument of overcoming DaCruz and Gentile’s call for an attorney to take the position.

DiSanti argues that her legal administration experience and not membership in the bar is really what the clerk’s office needs.  She began her career working in Springfield and although she had considered getting a law degree herself, she enjoyed the management side of law best.  She sees the Clerk’s office as an alternate means to apply the skills she has developed over the years.

During an interview in her office, a stand alone building in the Riverdale Shops Plaza in West Springfield, she laid out her conception and plans for the Clerk’s office.  DiSanti, dressed in a sharp pink jacket, said she understands why DaCruz and Gentile think being a lawyer is necessary, but she says the clerk, “does not provide legal advice.”  Consequently, in her estimate, the law degree is unnecessary.  The clerk has its own counsel that advises it as to legal decisions and cannot provide true legal advice to users of the Clerk’s office.

She acknowledges that familiarity with legal jargon only makes sense, but writs of certiorari and summary judgment are well-known to her.  Indeed, DiSanti relates that when she asked why the Clerk position is even elected, many have said to her, “Don’t go there!”

DiSanti at the Immaculate Conception Picnic in Indian Orchard. DiSanti is of Polish extraction herself. Her maiden name is Stec. (Facebook)

Rather DiSanti has been focusing on what organizational and personal skills she can bring to the office to make it more productive and to make it serve the court better.  She suggests that the Clerks staff, which is divided between those in Civil and Criminal terms, should be cross-trained to serve in either as needed.  She also wants Clerk staff to take professional development classes to optimize their skills.

DiSanti is also aware that some changes will require more than simply ordering a change, opening claiming the Clerk‘s power is quite limited.  Pointing to a graphical representation of the state trial courts, she notes that the Clerk of Courts actually reports to a state administrator, who must have a background in business administration.  Prior to that, the Clerks were supervised by a Judge.

Now, with the new position, the Trial Court operations are bifurcated between a Chief Judge, who handles the law and a business manager who maintains the courts’ operations.  Therefore, DiSanti argues. changes will rely heavily on interpersonal skills like persuasion and lobbying, in particular that statewide administrator as well as the assistant clerks’ union.

Returning to her work in the community, DiSanti wants to bring the Clerks office into the community.  From steps as simple as recruiting college interns from Western New England Law School and Elms to more aggressive work with at-risk communities, giving the Clerk’s office a footprint beyond the Hall of Justice would be among DiSanti’s priorities.

When she was young, DiSanti and her sisters were brought to jail by their father, a police officer.  “None of my sister have been in trouble,” and neither was she, DiSanti said.  On her own time, she promised she would encourage kids to come into the courthouse and experience what it is like as a means to dissuade them from doing anything that would put them at the business end of a trial.

Reflecting on the promises of some her opponents, DiSanti worries about suggestions to digitize the Courts’ records and documents.  She does not want anybody shut out of the Clerk’s office for an inability to pay.  Moreover, while the public face of the Clerk’s office, and indeed most Massachusetts Judicial Offices, is fairly meager, she contends that a number of documents, like a cases’ pending status are available electronically to members of the bar already.  She produced a document that showed the status of cases her firm had in court.

As for a public face to the courts, she agreed that the current interface is unacceptable.  However, she noted that with the changes at the top in the Trial Court management, she expected changes on other aspects of the court like its website and other contacts with the public.

Of course, this battle whatever the office’s esoteric dimensions, is still a campaign.  “When I came into it,” DiSanti says of the campaign, “I came into it full force.”  Those friends and supporters she had made over the years came along, too.  “We’ve had people joined in and never thought by being a part of the political process.”

DiSanti said campaigning was an incredible experience that has actually had fringe benefits.  DiSanti repeated something former senator Linda Melconian once told her, “She [Melconian] said, ‘Linda, if you’re losing weight and your body is tired & exhausted every night, if you go to sleep right away, you are doing the right thing.’”  And DiSanti says she is.  However, she looks forward to campaigns conclusion on September 6.

DiSanti has been able to gin up considerable enthusiasm in her hometown of Chicopee, although she has not courted endorsements.  However, she has received some support from Chicopee political luminaries, including, the city treasurer Ernest LaFlamme.

With the twilight of the campaign upon us, DiSanti is not stopping.  She says she has “Stepped through some heavy duty weather,” and has no plans to slow down until the polls close.

If she wins, DiSanti is looking forward to putting her own touch on the Clerk’s office and make the clerks a part of a community of its own, much like she has done in her firm.  Beyond that she thinks that some common sense changes and reforms can make Hampden Superior Court a model.  She says she’s not looking at any step up to something else political, but DiSanti good work can get noticed and spread to other jurisdictions.  “…You can think big,” she said with a smile.