The ongoing campaign against District Attorney Joe Early has much more to do with the far right in Worcester County trying to regain its political foothold than it has to do with any “corruption” on the part of our DA. It is vitally important that all people of good will – Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike – understand that the ongoing calls for trials and resignations have far more to do with votes than they do with a few lines in a police report.
The reasons for the anti-Early campaign
While Worcester has long voted Democratic, the city had a few Trump-style Republicans in its elected leadership, and there are a couple of representatives of that faction elected to office in other parts of the county as well, notably Ryan Fattman in the Worcester and Norfolk district State Senate seat, and Kate Campanale in the 17th Worcester district seat of the state House of Representatives, among a few others. That faction has been represented by the Turtleboy Sports blog (TBS), a bastion of hate and right-wing propaganda.
Now, however, this far-right faction of the Republican Party is losing what grip it had on power. In 2017, its leader, Michael Gaffney, was handily defeated in the Worcester city council elections, as were the other candidates it fielded for that body and Donna Colorio, its sole representative to the city’s school committee, who was pushed out by Dante Comparetto’s youth- and grassroots-powered candidacy. In the process, the influence of TBS was obliterated.
This year, the extremist faction’s representatives outside of the city are facing tougher-than-expected battles for re-election. Progressive insurgent Tom Merolli has mounted a surprisingly strong candidacy against Ryan Fattman, while there’s a very real chance that the 17th Worcester district could go Democratic, as Campanale leaves that seat to run for Register of Deeds. Even Jen Caissie, the Trump-style Republican in this district’s oft-overlooked Governor’s Council seat, is facing her strongest challenge yet from progressive Paul DePalo.
In short, the Trump faction of the local GOP could potentially lose everything in the upcoming elections – and they’re willing to do anything they can to maintain relevance. Knocking out a Democrat in a county-wide seat with Turtlbeboy-aligned independent Blake Rubin would serve that purpose well. Challenging Early would deprive progressives of a county-wide seat, on the one hand, and the fight to keep him in office, on the other, would drain the progressive and moderate side of both the money and people-power necessary to win grassroots elections to unseat Trump-like extremists.
The anti-Early campaign
The campaign to smear Early, which started when some state cops fed information to the failing TBS blog, which then published it, albeit partially incorrectly. According to their “reporting,” a young woman named Alli Bibaud was picked up for driving under the influence of heroin and alcohol, and the police filed an arrest report. Among other things, the police report noted that Ms. Bibaud stated that her father was a judge and was going to be very upset with her, and that she had performed sexual acts to obtain heroin. Her father, TBS said, Judge Timothy Bibaud, decided that he was above the law, and called – this is what TBS wrote – Joe Early and asked the district attorney to do him the favor of having the police report altered to redact those statements. According to TBS, Early did his friend a favor.
How incendiary! Except…it’s not. While people like the shady political opportunist Blake Rubin are calling for Early to resign, there’s simply no reason for anyone to be upset about anything Early did.
If one looks fully into the facts of the “scandal,” studies up on the history of Joe Early’s stances on arrest reports and what should and what should not be included in them, and really reads the report put out by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office after an investigation, one comes away with the view that this is all, as the saying goes, much ado about nothing.
Early’s history on related issues
Several things in Early’s work as a DA are important to note in this controversy.
First, Early has been increasingly concerned about stigmatizing those who are addicted to opiates and other substances. Just over a year and a half ago, I attended a public forum on opiates, at which Early spoke. There he stated that he, in his office, would do what he could to shield those addicted from unnecessary scorn and embarrassment. That, he argued, would help to create a climate in which people experiencing addiction would look for help.
Second, Early has been on record now for several years in arguing that documents used in court proceedings should contain only information salient to the charges being filed, that police reports shouldn’t be used for probable cause in applying for a criminal complaint, and that salacious information in such documents is problematic, in that they can generate adverse publicity and undermine the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Not holding people up to unnecessary scorn, advocating that only necessary data be included in court records, trying to ensure that negative publicity isn’t generated, thus affecting a person’s right to a fair trial: these are the exact ingredients that should lead one to expect that the DA would complaints about a police report including someone’s statement that she had to offer a blowjob for heroin. How could such a fact help to indicate whether someone was or was not driving under the influence at that moment?
No similar cases?
Despite all the above facts, which exonerate Early entirely, people like shady Blake Rubin, as well as newspaper writers, argue that there are no instances similar to Early’s or his office’s actions in this case. However, Early’s office released documents on more than 90 instances it considers similar.
While it is true that there isn’t one that is exactly the same, there are a couple of redactions of documents, and many impoundments (in which a document is temporarily hidden from public view). Regardless of a lack of an exact match, there are many dozens of examples in which the DA’s office acted to remove information from the public’s eye when the office judged that negative pre-trial publicity could, as Early has often worried about publicly, negatively affect a person’s right to a fair trial.
Most of these impoundments were for violent criminals and others who might be a danger to the public. Some were impounded to protect witnesses, but in other instances, to avoid pre-trial publicity. If the DA’s office was going to worry about their right to a fair trial, why would Early not be concerned about the right to a fair trial of a woman accused of a lesser charge? And why would he not be concerned about a report that needlessly stigmatizes exactly the population that he’s stated publicly he wanted to help de-stigmatize?
The fact is that the father of Ms. Bibaud, a trained legal expert, knew what should and what should not go into a police report. If there is an unfairness, it is one that Joe Early cannot control: most people do not know that certain things shouldn’t be made into public information, should not be included in police reports or other legal documents. Judge Bibaud knew that the report included embarrassing information that, because it was impertinent, simply should not have been there. He knew that he had good grounds to complain to the DA’s office. There is no more corruption in this than knowing that, if there is a pothole in front of your house, you can and do call your city council member to ask that s/he do something to get it fixed.
What’s the difference?
Another important question to ask is simply, “What’s the difference?” Some on the right act as if Ms. Bibaud is exonerated by the change of the report. But what, really, is the difference? The report still notes that she was picked up for operating under the influence, that she was extremely intoxicated, and that she had admitted to using heroin. Why does removing talk of blowjobs and angry fathers indicate justice not being served? Neither of these statements can be used against her to prove guilt; they are simply embarrassing. According to the AG’s report, a judge even agreed separately that the statements in question shouldn’t be shown, but instead sealed away.
As it turned out, Early was right: the statements in the report were completely unnecessary to establish guilt. Ms. Bibaud pleaded guilty, received inpatient treatment, and lost her license for a year – the same thing that happens to others who drive under the influence.
To sum up
Joe Early did nothing wrong. Instead, he acted as a district attorney should: he ensured that justice is served, but without needlessly embarrassing and stigmatizing a young woman suffering from heroin addiction. Given the ravages our communities are seeing from opiate addiction, Early’s actions are a reason to vote for him, not a reason for him to resign.
The “scandal” around the DA’s office is nothing more than a political smear, the flames of which are fanned by a Republican Party faction desperate to maintain power.