BOSTON, April 1, 2013—Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley will receive a top award from the state’s leading victim rights organization during an annual ceremony next week.
Conley will receive the Gerard D. Downing Leadership Award from the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance at next week’s 2013 Victim Rights Awards ceremony at the Massachusetts State House.
The Downing Award is bestowed annually on “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.”
Conley called it one of the greatest accomplishments in his 11-year career as the chief law enforcement officer for Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop.
“You can describe a prosecutor’s job in many different ways, but the most important one for me has always been that we speak for victims,” Conley said. “That’s how Gerry Downing approached his job, that’s a value he imparted to me, and that’s a legacy I’m deeply honored to follow. Victims and their loved ones have perhaps the greatest stake in seeing justice done in a criminal proceeding, and yet they have the fewest opportunities to have their voices heard. Supporting them, helping them, and championing their rights is really the heart of what I’ve always hoped to accomplish as DA.”
The award is named after the longtime Berkshire County District Attorney who died in office in December 2003 after 20 years as a prosecutor.
“Our terms overlapped by less than two years, but he was legendary as a lawyer and as a district attorney,” said Conley, who first took office in February 2002 and was re-elected later the same year. “I still have tremendous respect for him as a DA and a very humble man who truly believed in public service.”
The 31 victim-witness advocates working in Conley’s office play integral roles in almost every one of Suffolk County’s criminal cases, working alongside district and Superior Court trial teams to guide victims and their families through a court system that can often be confusing and intimidating. They help with safety planning, relocation assistance, compensation for medical and funeral costs, and more.
Conley spearheaded the effort to protect the child victims of commercial sexual exploitation in Massachusetts, adopting a voluntary policy that treated juveniles arrested in sex-for-fee cases as victims rather than offenders. The practice was years ahead of its time: Conley’s work with Attorney General Martha Coakley led to that voluntary policy becoming law statewide along with landmark human trafficking legislation five years later in 2011.
He appointed the first-ever VWA liaison to the LGBTQ community to foster trust and communication with those who once might not have trusted law enforcement to show them the respect and sensitivity that every victim deserves, and he vocally supported the specific inclusion of transgender men and women under the state’s civil rights and hate crime laws.
After reviewing a series of older child sexual abuse cases that could not be prosecuted because too much time had passed since the offenses occurred, Conley led a successful push to extend the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual violence against children. He also worked with a broad array of public and private agencies to bring the Family Justice Center to Boston, allowing victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to receive clinical, advocacy, child care, and other services under one roof instead of at disparate locations that were often across town from one another.
“I’m deeply grateful to MOVA for this award,” Conley said. “It’s one of the greatest honors of my career, and it makes me proud to be a prosecutor.”
The 2013 Victim Rights Awards ceremony will be held on April 8 at the Grand Staircase of the Massachusetts State House. The event begins at 9:00 a.m.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.