Essex DA reacts to Warren's criticism of criminal justice system

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photo. Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett speaks during a press conference where Gov. Charlie Baker announced tougher fentanyl trafficking laws during a press conference at Haverhill Police Department.3/20/18 [[MER1803201507514790]]

SALEM — After coming under heat from police officials for calling the nation's criminal justice system racist "front to back" earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has another critic: Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. 

Blodgett, in a statement posted on his office's Facebook page Monday, called Warren's comments at the Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans "uninformed rhetoric."

A fellow Democrat, Blodgett is also the president of the National District Attorneys Association. 

In remarks during a session at historically black Dillard University on Aug. 3, Warren referred to what she called "the hard truth about our criminal justice system: It’s racist ... I mean front to back."

She went on to cite examples such as disproportionate arrests of African-Americans for petty drug possession, an overloaded public defender system, and state laws that keep convicted felons from voting even after their sentences are complete.

Police took offense at the comments and Gov. Charlie Baker also weighed in. 

After criticism of the remarks erupted last week, Warren released a statement in which she sought to clarify her comment, saying she was not speaking about individuals within the criminal justice system. 

"I spoke about an entire system, not individuals and will continue to work on reforms to make the criminal justice system fairer," Warren said in a statement released over the weekend. 

Blodgett, in his statement, said Warren's remarks "not only over-simplified and misrepresented the challenges associated with criminal justice but also hinder any meaningful discussion on how to ensure that the system continues to reflect the values of our communities." 

Blodgett said there are separate and distinct criminal justice systems in each state and within the federal government, all of them, by nature, "adversarial." 

But he said "the vast majority of prosecutors, public defenders, judges, clerks, probation, police, and corrections officers work hard every day toward the common goals of justice, the protection of victims’ and defendants’ rights and public safety."

"No one is suggesting that we can’t do better, and in fact, we are open to new ideas and programs," Blodgett said. "Constructive dialogue about the administration of justice is always welcome, and indeed, necessary.

"The uninformed rhetoric she espouses is not helpful to those of us working tirelessly to build trust and improve relationships with our communities," said Blodgett, who has been the elected district attorney for Essex County since 2002.

Blodgett said he has reached out to Warren directly and looks forward to discussing her comments. 

Warren's office did not immediately respond to Blodgett's statement Monday.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.