As reported in the Boston Globe and elsewhere, on April 30th, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins attacked defense lawyers during an appearance on WGBH, after a caller complained about having trouble reaching his attorney. Read MACDL President Victoria Kelleher’s response to her comments, below.

The criminal defense bar has worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to protect individuals in custody from the spread of COVID-19. Through individual cases and complex litigation aimed at large scale remedies, such as the lawsuit filed with the SJC that led to the release of pretrial prisoners, the criminal defense bar has zealously represented their clients in district and superior courts across the state. In the months before COVID-19, the defense bar filed a lawsuit on behalf of abused prisoners at Souza Baranowski, just as we have always fought for our clients’ rights. It is our calling to speak truth to power, and hold those in power accountable.

The work of the criminal defense bar often places them at risk of getting sick themselves as they visit clients at police stations and jails. Unlike salaried prosecutors and other state employees, bar advocates represent their clients while worrying about a myriad of real-life economic issues. They struggle with trying to keep their business open, paying their staffs, making health insurance payments and rent.

The caller’s personal experience on the WGBH talk show is relevant and important, and he has since connected with his attorney. It in no way reflects the work of the vast number of attorneys who have devoted their practice to representing indigent defendants and who passionately fight every day, not just for their clients’ constitutional rights but, in today’s environment, also for our clients’ lives. Our work has not only facilitated the release of pretrial detainees, but we have also sought early release of many prisoners who are parole eligible and/or approved, but who are still awaiting decisions by the parole board. We call on all those who have the power to prevent additional illness and death within the state’s jails and prisons to do so without further delay. Such was the thrust of the SJC’s recent decision, and the defense bar will persist until it’s done.

—Victoria Kelleher, MACDL president