Baker picks chair of Sex Offender agency to succeed Rollins

Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden was sworn into office by Gov. Charlie Baker at the State House on Monday. Photo courtesy DA’s office

A former Suffolk County prosecutor is in place as the county’s district attorney for the next year, preparing to serve in what his former boss expects will be a “more traditional prosecutor’s role” as reform-minded DA Rachael Rollins took on the position of US Attorney for Massachusetts after her swearing in on Monday.

Gov. Baker last Thursday named Kevin Hayden, who since 2015 has served as chair of the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB), to serve the remainder of Rollins’s term, which will last until the next Suffolk DA — whom voters will select in the Nov. 8 election — is sworn in.

The appointment marks a reprise for Hayden, a Democrat who served in the DA’s office from January 1997 to April 2008 after he graduated from Boston University’s School of Law. The interest post could offer him a foundation for a campaign should he choose to run for a full term.

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, who oversaw Hayden for six years during his tenure, said he believes the SORB chair will make an “excellent leader” as the new top prosecutor.

“Like all good prosecutors, and I like to think I was the same way and I imparted this on the staff who worked for me, we recognize human frailty and we recognize that people who make mistakes are one class of individuals that come before the court. But there’s also another class of defendants who are very serious and violent,” Conley said in an interview with the News Service. “When Kevin was an assistant DA, he focused on both. He understood, and he could distinguish the difference.”

Conley, now an attorney at Mintz Levin in Boston, recalled that at the start of his tenure as DA in 2002, Hayden was a district court prosecutor and later rose through the ranks into leadership positions. According to Baker’s office, he served as chief of the Safe Neighborhood Initiative Unit and as assistant DA for the Anti-Gang Unit, the Homicide Response Team, the Juvenile Unit, and for the Boston Municipal Court,

Hayden departed in 2008 to join a private law practice, Conley said, and later began serving as general counsel and active executive director roles for the Sex Offender Registry Board. In 2015, he became the agency’s chair, replacing Gov. Deval Patrick appointee Anne Conners.

“I started 25 years ago as a young prosecutor right here in Suffolk County. Over the years it has remained the desire of my heart to serve and protect our many diverse communities. So, it’s truly my distinct honor and privilege to be called home by the governor through this appointment,” Hayden said in a statement. “With unwavering and compassionate commitment, I know it will be Suffolk County’s continued legacy to shine as a beacon in the fields of public safety and criminal justice.”

In announcing his pick, Baker praised Hayden as “a dedicated public servant with a proven record of commitment to equitable justice and community engagement. A veteran of the District Attorney’s Office, where he led the Safe Neighborhood Initiative Unit and devoted himself to leading community-based violence prevention outreach and programming, Chairman Hayden is equipped with the experience and knowledge necessary to serve in this role,” the governor said. “I thank District Attorney Rollins for her service and commitment to the people of Suffolk County and look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role as US Attorney.”

In a Thursday afternoon statement, Rollins offered Hayden “heartfelt congratulations,” adding that his professional experience speaks to his prioritization of serious and violent offenses and addressing the needs of our communities. I look forward to working hand-in-hand with him as he ascends to his new role and I ascend to mine.”

Earlier this year, Rollins tweeted, “FYI, when DA’s leave, at least all the men that did before I was elected, they recommend (tell) the Governor who should replace them.” On Jan. 6, she thanked Baker “for our numerous conversations and his thoughtful consideration of the candidates who sought his appointment to serve out the remainder of my term.”

Her approach as district attorney, which she outlined in a “progressive prosecution” strategy in March 2019, called for looking to divert or dismiss many nonviolent, low-level offenses. It also at times drew criticism from the Baker administration.

Conley said he anticipates Hayden will “pursue a more traditional prosecutor’s role, one that is victim-centered and focused on serving victims and keeping neighborhoods as safe as they possibly can be. That’s the kind of leader I expect that he will be because that’s the kind of prosecutor he was as a young lawyer.”

Voters will choose the next Suffolk County district attorney this fall. Hayden did not say on Thursday if he planned to launch a bid for a full term, but Conley said he hopes his acquaintance of two decades decides to do so.

There is now a vacancy as chair of the Sex Offender Registry Board. Baker’s office said the administration is reviewing candidates to fill that role.

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