Gants v Conley: Time for a real debate?

The Boston Globe delivered an editorial spanking to Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley over the weekend for questioning the political activity of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants.

Gants has been leading the charge for doing away with mandatory minimum sentencing in most cases, an issue that the Globe editorial page is also championing. The Globe says Conley went too far in criticizing Gants for his political activities on behalf of sentencing reform at a recent conference at Boston College Law School, and should dial it back.

“This is an issue that should be vigorously debated,” the Globe said. “And there is nothing untoward about the chief justice of the state’s top court playing a central role in that debate.”

Conley and Gants are the two chief protagonists in the simmering debate over sentencing reform, and the two have been sparring at a distance for some time. Gants went after the the state’s district attorneys about a year ago when he delivered the keynote address at a conference hosted by MassINC, the publisher of CommonWealth.

“Let us be honest: When some district attorneys say they fear judicial leniency, they really are saying that they do not want to relinquish to judges the power to impose sentences that minimum mandatory sentences give to prosecutors,” Gants said.

Conley appeared separately at that conference and spoke out against doing away with mandatory minimums, but at the more recent gathering at Boston College Law School (where Gants was again the keynote speaker) he addressed Gants’s point from a year ago more directly. He basically agreed with Gants that the real issue in the debate over mandatory minimum sentences is who should have discretion – the judges who hand out sentences or the prosecutors who file the charges and must decide whether to seek a mandatory minimum.

“My feeling is I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I’ve got a pretty good handle on who’s driving violence in our community. Judges don’t have that same handle, with all due respect,” Conley said. “Judges are more likely to make a significant mistake that could have a big impact on the community.”

Conley and Gants are articulate advocates for their positions. If we’re going to have a debate on sentencing reform, let’s have a real one, with the two officials squaring off face-to-face. CommonWealth would be happy to host the event.



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