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New Suffolk County DA says he'll focus on equity and fairness, no decision yet on seeking election

Kevin Hayden said his appointment this month is almost a "homecoming." He worked as an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County DA's office from 1997 to 2008 under former DAs Ralph Martin and Dan Conley. (Courtesy of the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office)
Kevin Hayden said his appointment this month is almost a "homecoming." He worked as an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County DA's office from 1997 to 2008 under former DAs Ralph Martin and Dan Conley. (Courtesy of the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office)

Interim Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden doesn't expect to make major changes in the office he took over last week. But Hayden does say there will be some differences between him and his high-profile predecessor Rachael Rollins, who is now the Massachusetts U.S. attorney.

For example, the well-known "list" of lower-level crimes that Rollins said the Suffolk DA would not immediately move to prosecute under her leadership. Hayden doesn't plan to have a formal list necessarily, but said reducing the rate of incarceration is important to him.

"With regards to 'the list,' as people call it, we'll be taking a look at that," Hayden told WBUR during an interview at his new office last week. "I don't think that's ever been absolute. Divergent and different levels and measures of accountability, short of incarceration, things that can hopefully reduce a carceral footprint — I think those have always been a priority across [the] DA's office across time. It'll certainly be an interest of mine."

The 53-year-old Hayden said his appointment as district attorney this month is almost a "homecoming" for him. He worked as an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County DA's office from 1997 to 2008 under former DAs Ralph Martin and Dan Conley.

When Gov. Charlie Baker appointed him to take over upon Rollins' swearing in as the state's U.S. attorney, Hayden was chair of the Commonwealth's Sex Offender Registry Board, which oversees convicted sex offenders.

Hayden said he hasn't decided yet whether he'll run to keep the job in this fall's election, but expects to make a decision soon.

Although Rollins was known as a "progressive prosecutor," Hayden shied away from the term. He said he intends to continue the work of the office's Integrity Review Bureau, which investigates claims of innocence and wrongful convictions in past criminal cases. Hayden's focus, he said, will be solving serious crimes and on equity and fairness in the criminal legal system.

"I think it's a little dangerous to say, 'Oh, he's progressive,' or, 'He's moderate,' " Hayden said. "I have some ideas that are progressive, and I think that I have some that are moderate and my job is to ensure public safety and fairness and equity in this system, regardless of a political view. I think that if I have the honor and privilege to do this job for a little while, that everyone — including the progressives — would be very happy with the job I do."

As Suffolk County's top prosecutor, Hayden will oversee a staff of some 270 people, including 160 lawyers. The office handles more than 25,000 criminal cases a year.

Hayden announced new appointments Friday: Padraic Lydon as his chief of staff and Erika Reis as general counsel. He said current General Counsel Donna Patalano and Chief of Staff Amanda Teo will be leaving at the end of January to pursue other opportunities.

Hayden said among his other priorities as DA will be "community outreach and collaboration like you've never seen before." Hayden also plans to focus on guns and gun violence, which he said is important to law enforcement around the country.

"I'm actually going to be looking at every single gun case that we currently have and where they stand and figure out what to do with them and how to prioritize them and then how to deal with them going forward," Hayden said.

Hayden added he supports Boston Mayor Michelle Wu's "public health approach" to last week's clearing of tents near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, the epicenter of the region's opioid epidemic.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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