Buoniconti, Mastroianni differ on qualities needed by new DA
Oct. 11, 2101
|Stephen Buoniconti |
Photo by Katelyn Gendron
By Katelyn Gendron
WEST SPRINGFIELD -- The sparring match between State Sen. Stephen Buoniconti and Westfield attorney Mark Mastroianni for Hampden Country district attorney continued Oct. 5 in a debate sponsored by the West of the River Chamber of Commerce.
Mastroianni criticized Buoniconti for what he called limited trial experience, while Buoniconti chastised his opponent for accepting endorsements of 41 former prosecutors, attorneys and members of law enforcement last month as "a conflict of interest."
"It's not about who's the best trial attorney; it's about who's the best candidate for district attorney ... this job is much bigger than that," Buoniconti told the more than 50 people who attended the debate at West Springfield Middle School.
The two candidates were asked questions by Ray Hershel of abc40 and FOX 6, G. Michael Dobbs, managing editor of Reminder Publications and moderator Robert McDonald. The two also had the opportunity to ask questions of one another in a Lincoln-Douglas portion of the debate.
Buoniconti maintained that his experience as a five-year prosecutor, who tried more than 100 cases, as well as his 10 years in the state legislature, provides him with ample qualifications for the position.
Mastroianni disagreed, asking, "You have no trail experience in Superior Court. How do you propose to be able to hire, train and guide attorneys more qualified than you?"
Mastroianni noted his experience as a criminal defense attorney since 1995 within the District, Superior and federal courts as well as his five years as assistant district attorney for Hampden County from 1990 to 1995.
"I recognize that the core foundation of the district attorney's office is successful prosecution," he said, adding that he has years of experience trying some of the most complex, forensic-evidence driven cases.
Buoniconti rebutted, "I've tried hundreds of cases. You might say the stakes are higher [in Superior Court] but I'd never tell a victim that. Just because you don't have the same experience doesn't mean you aren't qualified. The DA needs to assemble a great team working for justice day in and day out."
Buoniconti called the district attorney's position more administrative than prosecutorial. "The DA's office should be something different than it is ... as DA you have to be more than in the courtroom. I will be there but my first priority will be administration ... seven out of 10 DAs in the Commonwealth don't try any cases."
When asked how he plans to combat gang violence and overcrowding in jails, Mastroianni called for a "two-pronged approach" to gang violence and a new practice to "prioritize offenses," as "studies have shown that overcrowding is because of minimum mandatory sentencing for drug-based offenses."
|Mark Mastroianni |
Photo by Katelyn Gendron
He said "aggressive prosecutions" coupled with community studies identifying triggers that prompt people to turn to gang life would combat gang activity in the county.
Mastroianni noted financial backing from the state for the district attorney's office is essential. However, "Hampden County has gone hungry, especially in the DA's office, which is chronically and horribly under-funded. I'll be a strong advocate and make my cases to why Hampden County deserves funding," he said, adding that he'd require a liaison to work alongside legislators to that end.
Buoniconti disagreed, adding that the district attorney's office budget has increased by 11.6 percent, without any layoffs or furloughs, created 13 new positions as well as a witness protection program.
"I'm quite proud of what we've done here," he said of his work in the Legislature lobbying for additional funds for the district attorney's office.
When asked about their stance on casinos, both candidates agreed it'd be a great economic engine for Western Massachusetts.
"I'm in favor of casinos. The benefits of economic development outweigh the negatives," Mastroianni said, adding the gaming industry usually prompts an increase in minor crimes. "I'm very aware and prepared to allocated resources for an increase in crime."
Buoniconti said, "It's not the greatest thing to build a budget on ... but that is something that will bring good paying jobs that people can raise a family on and jobs will decrease crime."
Both also agreed that the district attorney's office must allocate resources to help decrease crime to bolster economic development in the county.
During the Lincoln-Douglas portion of the debate, Buoniconti questioned Mastroianni's endorsements and professional practices once again.
"I have many friends who are attorneys, but they know I have a job to do. It starts with the appearance of conflict of interest and then it becomes an erosion of public confidence. I'd rather stand with victims and public citizenry. I want to stand with you, not the people I'll be fighting every day [in the courtroom]," Buoniconti said in reference to Mastroianni's endorsements from former prosecutors.
He also called Mastroianni's continued casework "a conflict of interest" when a prosecutor is trying a case against a candidate for district attorney, "a potential boss."
Mastroianni disagreed, adding, "I've continued to work and have been reassigning [certain] cases because I support my family [financially] as a lawyer. I think you sell attorneys very short ... Lawyers are professionals and never has that been an issue. My continuing to handle cases is a testament to my experience."
Buoniconti also called Mastroianni's decision to run as an independent, rather than on the Democratic ticket, as unethical.
"I chose to run as an independent when only two people were running. Politics has nothing to do with justice and as DA, I would not hold to political philosophies," Mastroianni said in response.
Buoniconti rebutted, "You can't have it both ways. You need to stay true to your core."
Mastroianni's point of attack came in reference to his opponent's failure to release his tax returns as promised during the primary election campaign. Buoniconti said he's never tried to hide his income and submitted documentation of earnings and taxes paid via his accountant; however, as his wife has been a "victim of identity theft," disclosing his complete tax returns would not be possible.
Buoniconti said in closing, "Being DA is not just waiting in the courthouse for crime to come in; I have a much bigger vision."
Mastroianni said, if elected, he'd create an office that would "provide so much hope to the county," and also "reflect the makeup of Hampden County."
"This will translate into winning prosecutions and having safe communities," he added.
After the debate, Mastroianni picked up the endorsement of the Springfield Police Patrolman's Union, Local 364, while Buoniconti was endorsed by one of his former opponents in the primary, Stephen Spelman, and by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 482 in East Longmeadow.