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Kevin Cullen

Mitt takes the low road

Email|Print| Text size + By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / November 26, 2007

Throwing people under the bus is a required skill for politicians, but last week our former part-time governor and now full-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney threw one of his judicial appointees under the bus even before it had come into view.

To recap: In July, Superior Court Judge Kathe M. Tuttman overturned a district court judge's decision to hold a convicted killer named Daniel Tavares on $50,000 bail to await trial for assaulting two prison guards before Tavares wrapped up a 16-year stint for hacking his mother to death.

Tavares thumbed his nose at probation officers and moved cross-country to Washington state, where he in short order married a woman he met online and allegedly slaughtered a newlywed couple named Brian and Beverly Mauck over 50 bucks and a perceived insult.

Hmmm. Where have I heard this story before?

Anyway, within days of Tavares's arrest last Monday, before the dust or the facts had settled, Romney called on Tuttman to resign, as his campaign staff breathlessly whispered that the "law-and-order" career prosecutor he had appointed to the bench was actually a stealth Birkenstock-wearin', granola-chompin', tree-huggin', criminal-coddlin' liberal.

This all came as something of a surprise to people who had worked with Tuttman for years, locking up bad guys.

Kevin Burke is the state secretary for public safety, but in a previous life he was the longtime Essex district attorney and he hired Tuttman to run his family crimes and sexual assault unit. Burke doesn't recognize the caricature that the Romney campaign has drawn of Tuttman.

"She's a very bright, hardworking lawyer with a prosecutorial background," said Burke. "Kathe was known for her sympathetic treatment of victims. She prosecuted some of the most vicious criminals you can think of and she never expressed sympathy for them."

Burke wasn't defending Tuttman's decision in the Tavares case. He said that while in hindsight it appears to be a mistake with tragic consequences, he said he didn't know enough about the case to apportion blame.

With that kind of reasoning, we now know why Burke doesn't get invited on Geraldo's show. We also know why Burke will never run for president. He lets facts, or the lack of them, get in the way.

We know Tuttman let Tavares go. We don't know why Worcester County prosecutors didn't seek a dangerousness hearing for Tavares, which would have allowed the judge to consider in setting bail something more than the likelihood that Tavares would show up in court. We don't know the extent to which probation officials tried to find Tavares after he didn't appear for court-ordered meetings.

Romney, through a spokesman, got it right when he called the release of Tavares "a systemwide failure." He got it wrong when he called for Tuttman to resign, because he was looking for a scapegoat rather than a measured review of what went wrong with the system, a system over which he once presided.

Using Romney's logic, he should resign, because he is the one who put Tuttman on the bench in the first place. But he doesn't have a position to resign from, so that's out.

Blaming one person for systemic failings is not leadership; it's political expediency.

Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for Romney, took issue with Rudy Giuliani going after Romney on the murders of the Maucks.

"It's troubling," Fehrnstrom opined, "that Mayor Giuliani would politicize this tragedy."

Well said, Eric. Well said.

The only thing missing from this orgy of hypocrisy is that scene in "Casablanca," when Captain Renault raids Rick's Cafe and exclaims that he is shocked, shocked to find gambling.

To paraphrase the croupier who hands Captain Renault the proceeds of some earlier wagering, "Your winnings, Governor Romney."

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.

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