LOWELL -- The first punches have officially been thrown in the Middlesex County district-attorney's race.

At Middlesex Community College's Lowell campus on Tuesday, during the first debate between the candidates, Marian Ryan, the sitting DA, touted her experience in the office for more than three decades, while challenger Michael Sullivan emphasized his combination of prosecution and managerial experience.

"Never having prosecuted a homicide, never being at the police station at 3 a.m., I'm curious about how you would make those decisions and gain the respect of those who've worked their way through the system," Ryan told Sullivan.

Democratic Middlesex District Attorney candidates Michael Sullivan and Marian Ryan spar at Middlesex Community College in their first debate co-sponsored
Democratic Middlesex District Attorney candidates Michael Sullivan and Marian Ryan spar at Middlesex Community College in their first debate co-sponsored by The Sun. SUN/Julia Malakie

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
"Those who would now be in a position being reviewed by someone with far, far less experience. Less experience than anyone in Superior Court."

Sullivan stressed that he responded to plenty of calls as an assistant district attorney before he moved into managerial positions, pointing to a serious crime on Christmas that brought a woman "inches from her death," he said.

"I've been in the community before the yellow tape goes up," Sullivan said. "I've been there when children had to walk through the crime scene in the day after because police forgot to take the yellow tape down, dealing with the fear of crime after the fact.

"I don't have people jumping ship from my office," he added. "I have skill sets that my friend and colleague doesn't have.


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The Sun and Middlesex Community College teamed up on Tuesday at a packed Bradford F. Morse Federal Building in downtown Lowell to sponsor the first debate between the candidates running for Middlesex County district attorney.

Ryan has worked in the DA's office in Middlesex County for nearly four decades. She was appointed the county's top prosecutor by Gov. Deval Patrick in April 2013 after Gerard Leone resigned to accept a private-sector job. She lives in Belmont.

MIddlesex District Attorney hopeful Michael Sullivan speaks at a debate sponsored by The Sun and Middlesex Community College at MCC’s Lowell campus
MIddlesex District Attorney hopeful Michael Sullivan speaks at a debate sponsored by The Sun and Middlesex Community College at MCC's Lowell campus on Tuesday.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

She's running for election after her office has been criticized for its handling of assault and battery charges against Jared Remy, the son of popular Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy. Remy was not held on bail -- the district attorney's office did not request bail -- and he murdered girlfriend Jennifer Martel a day later.

"The big thing for me was a year ago this month when the DA herself gets up and the first words out of her mouth are to blame the victim," said Sullivan, criticizing how Ryan handled the Remy case. "Blaming the victim in a domestic-violence case was beyond my comprehension.

"That's not the gold standard of what the DA's office is all about," he added. "That's not what Middlesex is all about. We need to do better.

Current Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan gestures as she makes a point during Monday’s debate. Watch video of the debate at lowellsun.com.SUN
Current Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan gestures as she makes a point during Monday's debate. Watch video of the debate at lowellsun.com. SUN photos/Julia Malakie

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
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In response, Ryan said the quality of the work in her office has been "nothing less of the gold standard." She pointed to Lowell in the last few months, saying her office has effectively addressed serious crimes.

"At the end of the day, the core mission for the district attorney's office is to be out prosecuting cases, investigating cases, making people safe," Ryan said. "That is the core mission to protect the citizens of Middlesex County.

"It's difficult to say this office hasn't been proactive," she added.

Ryan emphasized that she pushed for domestic-violence legislation in the wake of the Remy case. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, while introducing the "most comprehensive domestic-violence legislation in a generation" with Attorney General Martha Coakley, that the legislation was spurred by the Remy case.

Among the many provisions in the bill is one that would require domestic-assault suspects to be held for at least six hours after an arrest to allow time to develop a safety plan for the accuser. The legislation would also educate judges and prosecutors about cycles of abuse to help them make more informed bail and sentencing decisions.

Sullivan, of Cambridge, is Middlesex County clerk of courts, an elected position that oversees all courts in the state's most populous county. Sullivan is also a former Cambridge mayor and city councilor.

While Ryan questioned his credibility as a prosecutor, Sullivan asked about her legitimacy as a manager.

"It seems to me that when you became special counsel, they kept decreasing the number of people you would supervise," Sullivan said.

The Sun and Middlesex Community College sponsored a debate between the Democratic primary candidates for Middlesex District Attorney, including Michael
The Sun and Middlesex Community College sponsored a debate between the Democratic primary candidates for Middlesex District Attorney, including Michael Sullivan and Marian Ryan. SUN/Julia Malakie

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
 "How as DA would you do a better job supervising people and not lose people?"

In response, Ryan listed a countless number of managerial roles.

The Democratic primary is Sept. 9.

The moderator on Tuesday was Patrick Cook, MCC's executive director of public affairs. The panelists were Christopher Scott, enterprise editor at The Sun; Laurie Myers, victim-rights advocate from Chelmsford; and Mary-Jo Griffin, MCC's director of community outreach.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter and Tout @rsobeyLSun.