Massachusetts attorney general candidates Maura Healey and Warren Tolman, both Democrats, touted their leadership capabilities—in the attorney general’s office and on Beacon Hill, respectively—during a roundtable discussion hosted by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School.

Healey said she would fight for reproductive health care for women, continue combating predatory lending practices and for-profit schools, provide greater mental health and substance abuse services in the state, and work on reforming gun sale laws.

Tolman said that as attorney general he would implement smart gun-fingerprint technology to cut down on unnecessary firearms violence, despite the National Rifle Association’s giving him an “F rating.”

Tolman's legislative experience

“I wasn't afraid of big tobacco. I'm not afraid of the NRA,” said Tolman, a former state senator and state representative who was an attorney at the law firm of Holland and Knight. He said that, if elected, he would call a collegiate summit to address on-campus sexual assaults and work to take down an “opiate scourge” in the commonwealth. Tolman said that standing up for what he believes in and working hard solidified his reputation in the public and private sectors, especially with taking on the tobacco industry, domestic violence initiatives and campaign finance reform.

Healey's role in AG's office

Said Healey, who served in the attorney general’s office for seven years, ultimately heading its Civil Rights division and Public Protection & Advocacy and Business & Labor bureaus: “I understand the important core issues that the attorney general wrestles with day in and day out, and I understand the important exercise of those responsibilities.

The two are vying for the Democratic nomination in the race for attorney general. Winchester resident John Miller, a lawyer, is running for attorney general as a Republican but did not attend the forum. The office is now held by Martha Coakley, who is running for governor and will not seek re-election.

The discussion featured questions from a panel that included three former assistant attorneys general—Alice Moore, counsel to the Massachusetts State Senate, and Suffolk Law Professors Dwight Golann and Rosanna Cavallaro.

Litigation and policy roles

The candidates were asked how they would handle the attorney general’s dual role as chief litigator for the commonwealth and policy-influencer.

Healey said that she always would be “guided by the fact that that office, at the end of the day, is there to make sure the most vulnerable among us have protections, that they have someone who is going to be their advocate.”

Tolman said he would be held accountable for any decisions but would not defend a state agency if the situation in question were “morally repugnant.”

Given the scenario of a 15 percent budget increase, Tolman said he would work to enhance the consumer protection component of the Public Protection Bureau and “better advertise” that the service is available to state residents. He would hire recent college graduates to work as “complaint mediators” to address any resulting increase in workloads.

Tolman said he also would establish a disability division, separate from the Civil Rights Division.

Healey said that, as head of the Civil Rights division, she made it the responsibility of every lawyer and staff member in the division to understand, handle and prosecute disability rights cases. Under her leadership, there were a record number of fair-housing cases on behalf of people with disabilities and accomplishments in terms of better technology for the disabled, she said.

Healey would use increased budgetary resources to provide the best technology possible for the attorney general’s office, “amplify” work related to human trafficking and increase language capabilities within the office to better assist the public.

Working with district attorneys

Healey said an important prerogative as attorney general would be to maintain regular communication with district attorneys, especially if crime takes place across county lines.

Tolman said he supports working with and collaborating with the district attorneys, but that the state also must focus on criminal justice reform, particularly as it pertains to mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent and drug offenses.

“I know how to get things done on Beacon Hill. I know how to be a leader,” he said. “A lot of these DA’s are looking for a leader to lead them.”

Privacy

Tolman said private entities must do a better job safeguarding online financial and medical records to cut down on rampant data breaches. He said he would hold corporate entities responsible for data breaches.

Healey would ensure people’s privacy rights by bringing legal action against companies that overlook the importance of protecting personal data.

“Where companies fail to have those [privacy] measures in place, when they don't take it seriously enough, we will bring action, and I will bring action as attorney general, because increasingly our lives are lived online,” she said. “Our medical information is there; our financial information is there; all of our personal information is there; and we need to make sure that information is protected.”

Rejecting patronage

Both candidates stressed there were would be no patronage in their respective administrations.

“You’re the people’s advocate; you’re the people’s attorney; you’re the chief law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said Tolman. “You have to adhere to the highest standards. That’s what my life’s been about.”

Tolman said that he would try to maintain an “open-door policy” when working with members of the private sector or business community by following the principles of “listen, learn, advocate.”

Income inequality

Healey said she is a big believer in closing income inequality gaps and closing economic gaps by ensuring that businesses are promoting a growing and healthy economy and following rules outlined by the attorney general’s office.

“I am the person who has the experience and the resolve, the independence and the vision to be able to build on some of our past successes and move this office forward,” Healey said.