'People's lawyer' - Attorney General Maura Healey - sworn in before 800-strong crowd at historic Faneuil Hall

01.21.2015

This originally ran on MassLive.com

By Shira Schoenberg

BOSTON - Maura Healey was inaugurated Wednesday as Massachusetts' 55thattorney general, before a packed crowd at historic Faneuil Hall.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants administered the oath of office just before 5 p.m.

Healey, a Democrat, becomes the first openly gay attorney general in the country.

In her inaugural address, Healey listed the many areas where she hopes to make a difference. "We have a heroin and prescription drug abuse epidemic that continues to spread," Healey said. "Our residents face rising health care costs and a market they can't understand. Our families are struggling to pay their loans and heating bills. And far too many have their lives turned upside down by gun violence, domestic violence, and sexual violence, whether at the hands of human traffickers or college classmates. As the people's lawyer, the attorney general is here to take on those tough challenges."

Healey, 43, replaces Martha Coakley, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor.

Healey is a former bureau chief in Coakley's office, where she oversaw the bureaus of Public Protection and Advocacy and Business and Labor. She previously worked as a prosecutor at the Middlesex District Attorney's Office and did commercial and securities litigation for a private firm.

In her inaugural address, Healey stressed her role as "the people's lawyer."

Healey said she will create a new Division of Community Engagement. The division will hold public forums and outreach events, run consumer hotlines and deal with website, social media, and constituent services. Healey plans to hold regular "Ask the AG" online forums and create an interface that allows people to request trainings and meetings.

Healey also talked about a division she plans to establish focused on protecting children. "Together with our partners, we will take on teen addiction, dating violence, and child abuse, and find ways to reduce the number of young people in our juvenile justice system," Healey said.

She discussed steps she plans to take to curb drug abuse: improving the state's prescription monitoring program, educating prescribers, going after drug traffickers and "pill mills" and expanding access to recovery and treatment programs.

"To all those who have lost a loved one to this epidemic: I stand with you," she said. At that line, the audience broke into applause and Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who has called fighting drug addiction a priority for him, led a standing ovation.

Healey listed off numerous other priorities, including maintaining safe workplace conditions, providing access to affordable care health care, ensuring mental health parity and ensuring fairness in lending. She criticized the practices of for-profit schools and of businesses that pay women unequal wages. She said she will ensure that casinos, being built under the state's new expanded gambling law, keep their commitments. She said she will work with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to open a safe house for human trafficking victims, and will work to expand treatment for people with mental health and substance abuse problems.

Sitting on stage behind Healey were Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Walsh and master of ceremonies, former U.S. Sen. Mo Cowan.

Cowan said Healey takes office "with the conviction of a skilled attorney, the drive of a great athlete, and the open heart and unimpeachable integrity of a true public servant."

The hall, which seats 800, was filled to capacity. Dignitaries included current and past elected officials, including former Gov. William Weld, sheriffs and law enforcement.

Melissa Weiksnar, whose 20-year-old daughter, a nursing student, died five years ago from an opioid overdose, was drawn to Healey because of her commitment to fighting drug addiction. When Weiksnar heard that Healey wants to address opioid addiction, she sent Healey a photograph of her daughter. Healey called her back. Weiksnar said Healey seems committed to addressing drug abuse from both a public health and a public safety perspective. "She gets it," Weiksnar said.

After her own inauguration, Healey administered the oath of office to the assistant attorneys general.

Earlier Wednesday, Healey announced the hiring of two top lawyers for her office - Chris Barry-Smith as first assistant attorney general and Richard Johnston as chief legal counsel.

Barry-Smith, a consumer protection and litigation attorney, will help direct the office's civil and criminal bureaus. Barry-Smith is a former deputy attorney general who led the attorney general's Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau and was also chief of the Consumer Protection Division. Much of his work focused on predatory lending enforcement, consumer protection and foreclosure prevention.

Johnston, a business litigator and arbitrator, will advise Healey on major and complex litigation. Johnston worked for more than 30 years at the law firm WilmerHale, focusing on business disputes. He has worked on civil rights and other cases, including securing the release of a man on death row in North Carolina and negotiating an agreement with the government of Sierra Leone to create manufacturing jobs.

Healey lives in Charlestown with her partner, Appeals Court Justice Gabrielle Wolohojian.


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