BOSTON, April 8, 2013—Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley delivered the following remarks upon receiving the Gerard D. Downing Leadership Award from the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance. The award, named after former Berkshire County District Attorney Gerard Downing, is bestowed annually upon “an agency leader … who has demonstrated unwavering commitment to advancing the rights of crime victims and is recognized by his or her colleagues for their efforts in advancing victim rights.”
“The opportunity to speak for victims and their loved ones has been the most rewarding experience of my career. As prosecutors, our most basic duty is to provide a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves. They may be children – without the words to express abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of caregivers. They may be survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault – feeling trapped, alone, afraid, ashamed. They may be gang-involved shooting victims – wrestling with a code of silence that tells them not to cooperate. They may be homicide victims – who had the very breath that gives us life stolen from them. But every one of them deserves the right to see justice done, and every one of them deserves a voice in that process. Helping victims and survivors like these has been the greatest honor and greatest achievement of my time as District Attorney.
“But if speaking for victims has been my greatest honor, then receiving the Gerard D. Downing Leadership Award is a very close second. Our terms as district attorneys overlapped only by about two years, but he was a powerful influence on the way I approached the job. Almost a decade after his death, his compassion and commitment to the men, women, children, and families who came to him for help still defines the modern prosecutor’s office, in Suffolk County and elsewhere.
“This award in Gerry’s name goes to an agency leader each year. I’m deeply, deeply honored to accept it, but I can only do so on behalf of the agency I lead – the Suffolk DA’s office. You learn pretty quickly as DA that there are no minor decisions. Every single one is going to affect someone’s life, you’ve got to get it right the first time, and you’ve got to do it on a budget that’s always tight. For 11 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the smartest, bravest, most dedicated men and women in this business or any other. From my first assistant and chief of victim services to our district court administrative staff, I couldn’t have asked for a better team. I want to thank every single one of them, past and present.
“Last week, in a trial just down the street from here, we convicted a 50-year-old man in a 25-year-old murder of a girl barely out of her teens. But the numbers that really defined the case were tallied by the victim’s brother in an impact statement he gave to the court. That victim, Janet Phinney, left behind six brothers and sisters when she was murdered in 1988. There are 12 nieces and nephews growing up without her love. She was missed and mourned at 24 Christmases, 24 Easters, and 24 Thanksgivings. And since the time she was taken, 591 family birthdays were celebrated without her.
“That’s the calculus of loss shared by parents, children, siblings, and spouses who live in the shadow of homicide. They’re the ones I’ve met under the worst circumstances over the past 11 years and the ones who have taught me the most about courage and grace, even in the depths of their despair. In courtrooms and community meetings, I’ve been embraced by folks like these, whose lives have been shattered but who found the strength to carry on. That resilience is a lesson to me, and I hope it’s a lesson to all of us in the crucial field of victim services.
“Serving victims and survivors is some of the most important and meaningful work there is to do in this life, and I’m so grateful to each of you who have chosen to do it. You will always be my partners and my friends. Thank you so much for this award, and God bless you.”
Also recognized at this year’s Victim Rights Week Award Ceremony was Victim-Witness Advocate Justin Sollis, a Jamaica Plain resident assigned to Conley’s staff at Roxbury District Court. Sollis was named one of this year’s Mintz Levin / Paul Poth scholarships to the Massachusetts Victim Witness Assistance Academy. Named for a former Suffolk prosecutor and bestowed by the law firm for which he later worked, the scholarships allow a limited number of qualified victim-witness advocates to attend the month-long, in-depth training program.
“Justin’s work with victims and witnesses in Roxbury has been outstanding,” Conley said. “This is a great opportunity for him and the office, and I’m very proud of him for this great accomplishment.”