April 12, 2006

Sex abuse victims’ lawyer runs in DA race

Telegram & Gazette


Houston lawyer Daniel J. Shea, a central figure in the local church sexual abuse scandal and a vocal critic of District Attorney John J. Conte, is moving to Worcester County to run for Mr. Conte’s seat.

Mr. Shea has taken out nomination papers and will run in a Democratic primary against the only announced candidate in the race, Joseph D. Early Jr.

Through his work representing local victims of priest sexual abuse, Mr. Shea showed himself to be both dogged and glib, a style that placed him in sharp contrast to Mr. Conte, who rarely makes public appearances or statements. Mr. Shea accused Mr. Conte of working in tandem with the Catholic Diocese of Worcester to keep the local scandal under wraps, and he prodded the district attorney to establish a more adversarial relationship similar to district attorneys who handled sexual abuse matters in the Boston Archdiocese. Mr. Shea criticized Mr. Conte’s repeated donations to the Bishop’s Fund, for example, arguing they betrayed a blatant conflict of interest.

Mr. Early, meanwhile, was representing one of the accused clergy, Rev. Joseph Coonan of St. John’s Church in Worcester, who was removed from his duties in the church, but has not been charged in connection with allegations of misconduct that allegedly happened before he became a priest.

Mr. Shea said he believes voters will take that into account when they make their choice in the September primary.

“I represented victims,” he said.

Mr. Shea said he would transform the district attorney’s office into one that is open and accessible to the public. “I certainly would bring a much different style to that,” he said. The district attorney is paid an annual salary of $108,000, manages a $7 million budget and oversees more than 60 workers.

He vowed to match Mr. Early’s spending dollar-for-dollar, but said at this point he is focusing on obtaining the necessary signatures to place his name on the September primary ballot.

When Mr. Early officially entered the race in 2004, Mr. Conte was already an announced candidate. But in January, Mr. Conte said he would not seek re-election. Mr. Early had $99,650 in his campaign account at the end of March and has raised more than $160,000 to date. “We’re hoping to raise $250,000 to $300,000,” he said.

“We always assumed we’d have an opponent so we didn’t let ourselves get caught by surprise,” he said.

In his 2000 Democratic primary bid for state Senate against Harriette L. Chandler, Mr. Early raised $187,000.

Mr. Shea said his campaign would focus on preventing the creation of the new generation of youthful offenders. Calling himself a Bill Clinton Democrat, he said he would implement the former president’s “signature piece of legislation,” the Workforce Investment Act, a program of job training and education the Bush administration has targeted for deep cuts for fiscal 2007.

Mr. Shea also said he would adhere to state law that requires the district attorney to play a major role in working with the local community and schools on juvenile violence prevention and intervention.

“Law enforcement is more than just chasing down the bad guys,” he said. “The district attorney is the chief law enforcement officer in the county. When it comes to establishing public policy, that’s the district attorney’s job, enacting changes in public policy that will improve the community.”

Mr. Early has said his campaign focus will be on juvenile justice and “keeping the streets safer.”

Mr. Shea is a donor to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and said he would support a bid by New York U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the presidency in 2008.

While Mr. Shea, 62, has lived in Houston for many years, he has local roots. Both his grandfather and father were born in Worcester. He grew up in Providence, attending Boston University and Rhode Island College after serving on a nuclear submarine in the Navy during the Vietnam era and rising to the rank of petty officer 1st class. He entered Pope John Seminary in Weston in 1969 and completed his studies at Louvain, an American Catholic seminary in Belgium. He studied for a semester at Boston College before serving as a deacon in Providence for one year and then deciding against joining the priesthood.

He worked for Nuclear Utilities Services in Washington, D.C., and was transferred to Houston where, after 13 years, he decided to seek a law degree at South Texas College of Law, graduating in 1990. He has practiced law in Texas, New York and Massachusetts.

Mr. Shea points to his time spent on a nuclear submarine for developing a no-nonsense personality that he admits rubs some people the wrong way.

“In a submarine there is no room for self-deception,” he said.

“You develop a very low tolerance for foolishness. That was probably the most formative experience of my life.”

Contact Richard Nangle by e-mail at rnangle@telegram.com.

Posted by kshaw at April 12, 2006 07:50 AM