Cahillane Back in the Saddle; Sullivan Poised To Take Reins

After losing big in the Democratic Primary, former prosecutor Michael Cahillane has roped his old job back — Northwestern DA Betsy Scheibel rehired him this week.

Will he stay or hit the trail when Dave Sullivan, the new DA, rides into town in January?


Former prosecutor Michael Cahillane was sworn in as an assistant DA on Wednesday, two weeks after losing a primary election to become DA. (© Paul Shoul)

NORTHAMPTON – Michael Cahillane, the former assistant Northwestern District Attorney who quit his job in June to run for top job, is back on the payroll as a prosecutor.

On Wednesday morning at the Hampshire Superior Courthouse here, Cahillane – who lost to David E. Sullivan in the Sept. 14 Democratic Primary for DA – was sworn in as an assistant DA by First Assistant Clerk Nancy Foley and Clerk Cindy Ingram.

It was an unheralded event. There were no press releases or media announcements. Few outside of the DA’s office or the courthouse even knew about it.

It is unclear what duties Cahillane will handle, since neither he nor Northwestern DA Elizabeth Scheibel could be reached for comment.

At the time he resigned to actively campaign, Cahillane was a top prosecutor in the office, handling high-profile cases and earning $73,000 a year, state records show.

Sullivan, who faces no opposition on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, said he learned of Cahillane’s rehiring during the day Wednesday. Someone told him that a new assistant DA was hired, and he replied, “Oh, that’s great.” When he asked the name of the new staffer, the answer was Mike Cahillane.

“I was surprised,” Sullivan told Northampton Media on Thursday. But, he added, “That’s Betsy’s call. It’s up to her.. . .They’re taking care of him for the next few months.” He said that Scheibel’s office, already short-handed from state budget cuts over the past few years, “can definitely use his help over the next few months.”

David Sullivan says he will set up a transition team to vet all prospective employees, including those already on-staff. (David Reid photo)

The two men never sparred in court between 2000, when Cahillane was first hired by Scheibel, and 2002, when Sullivan ended his private law practice to become register of the Hampshire Probate and Family Court, a post he still holds today. But the incoming DA described Cahillane as “a decent prosecutor” based on what others have told him.

Limbo, and a Transition Team To Vet the Staff

Would he consider keeping Cahillane on after becoming DA on Jan. 5, we asked Sullivan? Sure, he replied, despite Cahillane’s comments on election night that the arrangement wouldn’t work.

Sullivan said Cahillane can submit his application along with everyone else in the office. Re-evaluating prosecutors and top staff, Sullivan said, is common practice when a DA takes power.

So far, Sullivan said, he has made no decisions about who to bring in from the outside and who among the existing staff he’ll ask to stay. After Nov. 2, Sullivan said, he will assemble a transition team of highly experienced people familiar with the office to interview and vet all applicants.

But his top priority, personnel-wise, Sullivan said, is to retain the best and brightest among the existing staff, adding, “there’s a lot of good people who work there.” While he called Elizabeth Farris “one of the best trial attorneys,” he said he has not scrutinized the rest of the staff.

And to date, Sullivan said, he has not contacted Scheibel, who left for a two-week European vacation the day after the primary. But he expressed a desire for the two to meet soon, saying, “hopefully, we’ll have an opportunity to sit down” and discuss numerous matters.

Although he won two-thirds of the primary vote for DA, and faces no Republican opposition on Nov. 2, Sullivan said it’s a strange feeling to be in limbo as the presumptive successor to Scheibel, who is in her 17th year as DA. While he knows he’ll take over in January, he can’t take any actions until after Nov. 2, when he is officially elected to the $148,000-a-year post.

Campaign Postcards, Old Photos and Lawn Signs

On Sept. 14, Sullivan was the winner in a lopsided victory over Cahillane, winning 17,427 votes to 8,568, a margin of 2 to 1. He won all the big-vote communities, and lost only four towns. The win was convincing.

Mike Cahillane (left) and Dave Sullivan during a DA campaign debate. Sullivan says he's open to hiring Cahillane, despite Cahillane's statement to reporters that it won't happen. (David Reid photo)

The key to his victory, Sullivan said, was the wealth of brains and talent among the people who flocked to his campaign. “You know how you get elected? Great people,” he said.”And we had a great pool of people.”

Asked about the best advice he got during the campaign, Sullivan said it was to focus efforts on those voters who traditionally participate in Democratic primaries. By checking voter rolls in the past three Democratic primaries, he said, the campaign identified about 8,000 people in Franklin and Hampshire Counties who voted in all three.

Among the tactics that worked best, he said, was the sending of postcards to older voters and that pool of very likely voters, with a preprinted message but room for a personal note from someone they knew. “I think we put at least 12,000 of them out there,” he said.

The campaign also used a website and a Facebook page, as well as an network of emailers.

Speaking of websites, Sullivan made much during the campaign of his having upgraded the Hampshire Probate Court website to make it more informational and user-friendly. He has vowed to do the same for the DA’s anemic website. (The two websites prominently feature old photographs of Scheibel and Sullivan looking – well – much younger. See inset photos.)

During our interview, we pointed out that Sullivan’s campaign website looks almost exactly the same as it did the day before the election, touting endorsements and urging voters to turn out, except for one thank-you message on the top.

“Yeah,” Sullivan said, after a quick groan. “I’m going to update the website.”

While the Sullivan campaign spared no expense on radio and TV ads in the last two weeks – spending about $18,000, state records show – he held back on TV advertising. Although one campaign advisor said they had some TV ads in the can, Sullivan said it wasn’t strategy that decided against their use: “We couldn’t afford it,” he told Northampton Media.

After his election win, Sullivan, his wife and one of his three daughters spent a few days at Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island, where he body surfed in the waves. And since the election, he’s gotten back to running a couple of miles up to five days a week, exercise that helped him shed about 55 pounds over the past two years, he said.

And as for those lawn signs we saw everywhere leading up to primary day, Sullivan said they’ve all been picked and stored away, although some will no doubt resurface in the weeks before Nov. 2, when his name alone will appear on the ballot for Northwestern District Attorney.

There could always be a last-minute write-in candidate making a pitch for votes, Sullivan said. “I tell people, I’m not elected yet,” he said.

As he watches the returns on election night, Sullivan will hoping for a strong show of support. A sizable vote in the general election can provide the sort of mandate that primary winners can’t claim. And Sullivan may need to know the public has his back when the dust flies.

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