The DA Campaign of the Bambino…
UPDATED 8/19/14 5:24PM: For clarity and alternate candidate photo.
SPRINGFIELD—Despite a fairly short legal career thus far, when asked about the top cases he prosecuted, the robbery of a Guatemalan immigrant came to Anthony Gulluni’s mind. The day after Christmas, “a guy pulled a gun and took his wallet.” Gulluni said the victim chased after him and actually caught him when some people nearby joined in the pursuit.
About a month before he took a leave of absence to run for District Attorney, Gulluni prosecuted the case and obtained a conviction. “It was satisfying because this guy was purely a victim,” Gulluni said of the immigrant who was sending money back home for his family.
Before this year’s race for Hampden County District Attorney, an invocation of Gulluni’s name likely referred to his father, Frank. Among the political classes and the people who passed through the now-shuttered Massachusetts Career Development Institute during its heyday, the elder Gulluni has had a positive reputation. Now the son is vying to make a name for himself as the area’s chief prosecutor.
Gulluni has not overtly run on his family name, but the establishment support he has enjoyed, particularly in Springfield, cannot be understated. Still, Gulluni has spent considerable time and resources raising his own profile beyond the confines of Springfield’s political elite, wielding perhaps the most aggressive public relations efforts in the race.
Gulluni, 33, of Springfield is one of four Democrats competing for their party’s nomination for Hampden County District Attorney, along with Shawn Allyn of Agawam, Hal Etkin of Longmeadow and Brett Vottero of Springfield. Last year incumbent DA Mark Mastroianni was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the US District Court Judge based at the federal courthouse on State Street.
Pending the new DA’s swearing in next year, Gov. Deval Patrick appointed First Assistant DA Jim Orenstein to run the office.
Gulluni got into the race a bit late, but has made a strong showing for a first time candidate. His signs are legion (partly thanks to the Sears real estate empire), but it will take far more than that to win. His campaign has emphasized the impact of crime on the county’s traditional urban center, but using a more conservative tone. Over time, he has tried to give that platform some nuance, at a time when a strict “tough on crime” approach has worn thin voters’ patience and wallets. At the same time, he has tried to market his youth and short career as a fresh and energetic perspective rather than allow it to be a liability.
“It’s sort of an audition,” Gulluni said of the campaign during an interview at the downtown Hot Table. Voters might see this and think, he continued, “’If he is working this hard…that’s the kind of person he will be as district attorney.’”
“I want to be in a leadership position to really broaden the impact of the office,” Gulluni said, noting his roots here in the city and an interest in being part of a new generation of leaders in the Pioneer Valley.
Gulluni said he found his way to the law based on his strength in reading and writing, a core attorney function. Perhaps more importantly, he wanted to do trial work and only lawyers can do that.
The move to criminal law was less obvious. Gulluni’s sister, too, is an attorney practicing civil law, and Gulluni assumed he would take a similar path. His first job out of law school was with the City Solicitor’s office in Springfield. However, a friend recommended the DA’s office if Gulluni really wanted to do trial work. Then-DA William Bennett hired him and so began his career as a prosecutor.
Like most ADA newbies, he started in District Court, but moved up to prosecuting in superior court which covers assaults to robberies. However, Gulluni has not yet prosecuted a murder trial from beginning to end. Gulluni said he had led a murder case through the grand jury and handled the motion practice for such a case, working closely with police detectives. One of his opponents, Vottero, was once head of the DA’s homicide unit and has tried several murders. By implication, Vottero has emphasized this difference between himself and Gulluni with whom he has competed for the Springfield base vote.
Gulluni, however, defended his trial experience as sufficient having prosecuted over “a hundred cases.” He also noted that murder trials, for obvious reasons, get the most media attention, but, are tried with the same care and attention to detail as lesser felonies should be.
On some level, the question of what kind of cases he has tried is another dig on his inexperience relative to his opponents. The man who hired Gulluni, Bennett, also endorsed him in a public announcement on the courthouse steps though. Speaking to WMassP&I afterward, Bennett said his former employee had “plenty of experience” after prosecuting cases for seven years. Citing his family background of commitment to the community, Bennett added that Gulluni took the job quickly and has “the right temperament and attitude.”
Bennett’s sister, Springfield at-large Councilor Kateri Walsh echoed those thoughts saying Gulluni had a “moral compass.” “He’s dedicated, smart and compassionate. He has all the right qualities to be an outstanding District Attorney,” she said in an email. Unions representing state police, a division of which is controlled by the DA, and correction officers have also backed the young prosecutor.
But Gulluni has also gotten support outside the traditional Springfield political realm too. Figures like Chicopee at-large School Committee member Mike Pise and those identified with the Springfield reform movement like former City Councilor Pat Markey, have lent their support.
“He’s a bright guy,” Markey said, “knows the office already and approaches each case fairly.” The former councilor added that given the level of discretion the DA has to try, Gulluni has the judgment necessary to separate the wheat from the prosecutorial chaff.
Gulluni’s tagline is “for a safer community,” but during the interview it was clear that seemingly conservative theme belied a desire for a more proactive approach to crime.
“I think it is going to take a refreshed energy, passion and approach to how we approach criminal justice,” he said. Prevention must go with prosecution he explained, “To sit reactively in the courthouse as the DA…we’re not being completely effective. We’re not using all of our tools & resources.” To Gulluni, that includes partnering with agencies like the sheriff’s office before people turn to crime, “If we can invest some money in the early stage of people’s lives, we don’t have to spend the money in court cases.”
But Gulluni also said the office needed to be “tough on prosecutions.” “We, who are the law-abiding citizens, are fed up,” he said. As he has in debates, he said his position on mandatory minimums was nuanced in that he supported them as leverage and, specifically for violent and repeat offenders. Gulluni suggested his opponents categorically opposed to the mandated sentences had flip-lopped.
Gulluni argued that mandatory minimums are cast inaccurately as putting drug addicts into prison. “The common misperception is that we are jailing people who are addicted to drugs. The DA’s office has not done that in a long long time,” he said while agreeing more resources must be put into treatment. He differentiated those offenders from those trafficking heroin, involved with gangs or carrying guns.
“Making the distinction between somebody who is suffering from addiction and someone who is profiting from addiction,” is necessary Gulluni declared.
Management of the office will also be one of the duties and Gulluni said his experience across different courts and working through a transition had prepared him. Gulluni added that only two living people have run that office and one of them endorsed him (although Vottero might differ, as he said he had supervisory responsibilities in his career in the office). Gulluni has also underscored that he is the only candidate currently employed by the DA’s office (if on leave).
The management issues run deeper than supervising individuals. The Hampden DA office budget does not reflect its caseload, particularly in superior court. While things have improved somewhat, the office, Gulluni said, needs more staff and resources and would lobby Beacon Hill for them.
“Prosecutors, victims advocates…are often stretched to their limits,” he said. Compared to staffing out east, “We are doing as much, if not more with less.”
Gulluni also expressed an openness to expanding the divisions within the office, namely to include a public corruption division. “If we are fortunate enough to have those resources, we can expand our investigative and prosecution capacities that might be neglected a little bit right now,” he said.
So far, Gulluni says he has enjoyed the campaign trail. He likened a political campaign to presenting your case as a prosecutor. “It has been a tremendous amount of work, but it has also been rewarding and exciting,” to meet voters, politicians and friends on the campaign trail Gulluni added. It has also given voters, he said, a chance to learn about the race and particularly his background, despite the somewhat muted coverage area media has given it.
Some part of the Hampden County bar is on each candidate’s side. At a Gulluni event at Samuel’s at the Hall of Fame, among the attorneys there were Jeffrey Fialky, an attorney at Bacon & Wilson and the son of one of the firm’s modern founders; Daniel Morrissey, also of Bacon & Wilson and fellow Forest Park resident; Jeremy Powers of Longmeadow; Chris McDonald of Springfield and William Reichelt, West Springfield’s newly minted Town Solicitor.
Many of these and other bar members skew younger, perhaps attracted to the youthful energy Gulluni has promoted. Others are longtime friends and contemporaries, unconcerned about someone Gulluni’s age taking on a role like DA.
Markey, the former councilor, who has practiced law for over 20 years, suggested that the concern about age is “a prejudice that all of us 50 or approaching 50 have.”
“If we look back to when we were young,” he continued, “we’d realize we knew a lot.”