Editor’s note: Following an internal review of his work, GBH News will no longer use Daniel Medwed as an on-air legal analyst. This decision was made following his being referenced in a Department of Justice report on U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins and subsequent comments he made on air about her tenure and the 2022 Suffolk County D.A. election, without appropriate disclosure. High ethical standards and credibility are central to our work and nothing is more important to us than our audience’s trust.

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins was sworn in yesterday as the new chief federal prosecutor for Massachusetts, which means that Massachusetts will have at least three new chief county prosecutors after the next election cycle. Daniel Medwed, GBH News legal analyst and Northeastern University law professor, joined host Henry Santoro on Morning Edition to discuss the significance. This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity and length.

Henry Santoro: Last week, two longtime D.A.s, Michael O'Keefe of the Cape and Islands and Jonathan Blodgett of Essex County, announced that they were not running for reelection. Now, how unusual is it to have so many openings for jobs of this kind at the same time?

Daniel Medwed: It's very unusual. We only have eleven chief county prosecutors in the Commonwealth, and to have three open seats at a minimum, all of them up for grabs, doesn't happen very often. Here's why. First of all, when you get these jobs, you often have them for life. Data across the country indicate that when D.A.s run again in a race, the incumbent prevails 95 percent of the time. And get this, Henry, in 85 percent of those races, they run unopposed without even having a challenger.

Second of all, these are great jobs if you care about influencing criminal justice policy because local prosecutors have such discretion in how they wield their power. It's a chance to put your unique imprint on the local criminal justice map. So it is very, very rare.

Santoro: How much discretion do county prosecutors have? They have to follow state criminal law, and that must limit their discretion to some point, don't you think?

Medwed: I think you're right on some level, Henry, that local prosecutors are beholden to state law. For instance, they couldn't file criminal charges for a crime that doesn't exist in the Commonwealth. But within those parameters, they have tremendous leeway to set their priorities and policies. For instance — whether to charge or to decline to charge certain types of crimes, whether to offer plea bargains or not, whether to cooperate closely with law enforcement, the local police or not, and so on.

For instance, as former Suffolk County D.A., Rachael Rollins famously declined to prosecute a large swath of low-level nonviolent offenses and also to devote resources to investigating and rectifying wrongful convictions. I think those priorities reflected her progressive value system.

Other D.A.s, like outgoing Cape and Islands D.A. Michael O'Keefe, had more of a “tough on crime” ethos, and I think their policies reflected that orientation. Another outgoing D.A. you mentioned, Jonathan Blodgett in Essex County, was really concerned about the opioid epidemic in his jurisdiction, so he spent a lot of time focusing on drug diversion programs. Lots of power for local D.A.s. And as the adage, goes with power comes responsibility.

Santoro: And Dan, do you have thoughts on who might ultimately seek election in these counties?

Medwed: Oh gosh, my crystal ball is a little murky today. Maybe with that weather out there. The rumor mill is certainly grinding out some names, none of which I feel comfortable mentioning on air as of yet. I think the key contenders will emerge over the next two to three months as they get ready for a fall run. We do know that Gov. Baker has appointed a very experienced and well-regarded former prosecutor, Kevin Hayden, to fill out the rest of Rachael Rollins' term. It remains to be seen whether Hayden will put his hat in the ring and vie for the full-time job. We know that name recognition is really important in these races, and he'll have about a year to get his name out there and to let voters learn about his priorities.

"In a sense, [Rollins is] going from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a big pond."
-Daniel Medwed, legal analyst

Santoro: Last question, Daniel, what do you think about Rachael Rollins as the new U.S. attorney for Massachusetts? It's an interesting career move, but it makes sense to me to want that job.

Medwed: It certainly is an interesting move. So, on the one hand, in my world and legal circles, it's considered a promotion to go from being the elected county D.A., even in a big county like Suffolk, to becoming the federal prosecutor, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. That's a promotion. On the other hand, I think that Rollins may find that she has less power, less influence in this position because she's ultimately answerable to the attorney general, Merrick Garland, and other top brass at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

In a sense, she's going from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a big pond. Now, we've seen Rachael Rollins in action. She can swim very well upstream, downstream. She's going to navigate those choppy federal waters with tremendous skill.

Santoro: As always, thank you so much and do stay warm today, Dan.

Medwed: I'll try. Henry, you too. Thank you.