How Capeless plotted succession plan

DA pulled nomination papers to throw off reporters

DAVID CAPELESS WORKED CLOSELY with Gov. Charlie Baker to choreograph the handoff of his job as Berkshire Country district attorney to a top aide, going so far as to pull nomination papers for himself to throw reporters off the scent.

Emails obtained from the district attorney’s office under the Public Records Law indicate Capeless was concerned that reporters might learn of his scheme if they discovered he wasn’t running for reelection.

On February 14, Capeless emailed the governor’s chief legal counsel, Lon Povich, telling him: “FYI – There have been repeated inquiries by local media about why I hadn’t pulled nomination papers, so I did that today, but immediately after that filed my retirement application.  Still on track, just stalling until 3/1.”

On March 1, Capeless held a press conference where he announced he was resigning with 10 months left in his term and that the governor planned to appoint his top aide, Paul Caccaviello, to fill the post.  At the press conference, Capeless admitted he was stepping aside early so that Caccaviello could run for a full term in the fall with the advantages of incumbency.

Caccaviello is currently facing two practicing attorneys, Andrea Harrington and Judith Knight, in the Democratic primary for district attorney. Harrington said the deal between Capeless and the Republican governor is bad politics.

“What David Capeless and the governor did is a blatant attempt to keep me and others from running against Paul Caccaviello,” she said. “I’m now running against a sitting district attorney who gets many opportunities to appear at public events and to get quoted in the newspaper.  It’s an uphill battle to overcome an incumbent.”

The emails obtained under the Public Records Law don’t shed any light on why a Republican governor decided to help a Democrat in the Berkshire County district attorney’s race, nor do they pinpoint when Capeless’s idea of stepping down was first broached with Baker.

The idea was probably first hatched sometime in January because Capeless sent an email on January 25 to Povich attaching “a proposed timeline of events, which would give Paul Caccaviello ample time to form a campaign committee and gather the necessary  signatures on the ballot for the September primary.”

The timeline included separate meetings between Caccaviello and Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on February 7.

Capeless apparently became anxious when he did not hear back, writing to Povich four days later: “Please let me know as soon as is practical whether the proposed timeline is agreeable to the Governor and Lt. Governor, so that I may begin to make confidential preparations.”

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A day later Povich gave Capeless some reassurance. “Not sure how much of an OK I can give to any timeline before the meetings on the 7th.  All that said, I think the meeting you had was very positive and helpful to the process.”

There is no other reference in any of the emails to the meeting mentioned by Povich.

At the request of Povich, Capeless in mid-February sent the governor’s legal counsel a draft of a letter in which he formally informed Baker of his intent to resign. In the letter, Capeless recommended Caccaviello in glowing terms as his successor.