Michael O’Keefe announced in January that he would not seek re-election in 2022 as the Cape & Islands District Attorney after 20 years on the job, which leaves the position wide open for those who have long sought the opportunity. Two candidates that have emerged are Rob Galibois and Dan Higgins. Both candidates took time to speak with the Current to discuss their candidacy and why they believe they are the best choice for the job.
Galibois, a Democrat, has been an attorney for 27 years, including five and a half years as an assistant district attorney for the Cape & Islands. He graduated from UMass Amherst in 1992, where he studied legal studies and walked away with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He went on to study at the Massachusetts School of Law, where he graduated in 1997.
“I’d offer the deepest and most diverse experience of any of the candidates,” Galibois said. “I’ve led in many cases and worked 15 homicide cases whereas the other candidates have virtually no experience in that regard. They have been part of a few homicide cases, but weren’t heading those teams like I was. The primary role of the District Attorney’s office is to seek justice in each case before the court, but justice has different definitions depending on circumstances.”
Galibois said public safety is paramount and that the DA’s office can ensure justice in a variety of ways.
“The DA’s office doesn’t just seek justice against crimes already committed, it also plays a role in trying to prevent crime,” he said. “We have to work collaboratively with local law enforcement, town and community leaders, and the community itself to prevent crime. My experience speaks for itself over the course of these 27 years where I have been in positions where people look to me and prosecutors look to me in very serious cases to solve problems, establish relationships, and provide solutions and positive outcomes in very important, crucial moments.”
Higgins, a Republican, has plenty of experience himself. Higgins graduated from Boston College in 2005, where he studied psychology and law. He went on to study at Suffolk University School of Law, where he earned his Juris Doctor.
“I am the only career prosecutor in the race and I have devoted my entire legal career to serving the people of the Cape and Islands,” Higgins said. “I went to law school to become a public servant. I think I am uniquely positioned not only as a prosecutor for 13 years on the Cape and Islands but also as someone who has supervised the many professionals of this office for six years and coordinated those courts and the training of those assistant district attorneys.”
Higgins said he believes the personal relationships he has developed with professionals across the Cape and Islands gives him an edge no one else can match. He also believes that it is important to note most of Galibois’ experience in these homicide trials is as a criminal defense attorney, not a prosecutor.
“I have been the Chief of the District Courts, where I supervised five District Courts and a team of about 10 assistant district attorneys,” Higgins said. “I held that role for six years. Nantucket District Court was one of those courts. I have also been an assigned superior court prosecutor and I have secured multiple superior court felony convictions on Nantucket.”
Last August, Higgins was part of the trial team that convicted Thomas Latanowich, the man who murdered Yarmouth police Sgt. Sean Gannon in 2018. Latanowich received a life sentence on a second degree murder charge and another 10 years after being sentenced as a habitual offender. He must serve those 10 years before the life sentence begins, which means he is not eligible for parole for 35 years.
“I have practiced in every court on the Cape and both islands,” Higgins said. “It is a job I love and I am running because I want to keep an experienced, career prosecutor in charge of what I consider some of the most highly respected professionals across the state who make up the largest law firm on the Cape and Islands.”
Higgins said he has had several year-long rotations as the assigned prosecutor on Nantucket, where he worked closely with the island’s police department, retired Lieutenant Jerry Adams, Nantucket District Court Clerk Magistrate Don Hart, and Nantucket Superior Court Clerk Mary Adams.
Galibois would argue that he not only has the experience of working on the Cape and Islands, but also has experience in a variety of other roles and seats that Higgins has not occupied, which will allow him to tackle every angle of this job.
Galibois laid out two initiatives he intends to put into action if he is elected. He wants to create a mental health session and a veteran’s session in the trial court. There are a combined eight mental health sessions in Massachusetts and six veteran treatment sessions, but the Cape and Islands does not have either of those resources.
“As I have gone around the Commonwealth I have seen many counties that have mental health sessions,” he said. “They are certainly beneficial where you can gather professionals to work with trial courts, probation officers, judges, and prosecutors to try to treat what someone is suffering from and this treatment might help prevent them from coming back to court.”
“When it comes to the veterans, they have had experiences many of us haven’t had. My goal would be to try to encourage as many veterans in our areas as possible to volunteer and work with us in court. It would help veterans who get ensnarled in the criminal justice system and help us get to the root of the problem that got that veteran in court. When I say you can achieve justice in a variety of ways, these are some of them. If you can get to the root of these problems and prevent people from committing offenses that bring them back to court, you are improving their lives along with the lives of those throughout the Cape and Islands.”
He added that he also wants to create a community engagement officer position on his first day as the Cape and Islands DA. Galibois said this individual will be responsible for engaging with representatives across the Cape and Islands every day and will report back to him daily so he can keep his finger on the pulse of every community under his jurisdiction.
“I also think it would be ideal to get a prosecutor over to the island for at least a second day per week,” Galibois said. “I was over on Nantucket two weeks ago and one of the subjects when I met with the sheriff over there and others was exactly that. I didn’t realize the year-round population has swelled to just under 20,000 people on Nantucket. That is about the same year-round population of Martha’s Vineyard and they have three court dates per week.”
“When I learned about the increased year-round population, the first thing I thought about was we need to dedicate more resources here to Nantucket. That is something I will speak with Mr. Hart and others about.”
Higgins said making sure everyone is treated as an individual, regardless of who they are, is one of the main reasons why he has elected to run for this position. He said he doesn’t believe policy for a specific type of case should dictate the outcome on that given case each time. He said that sometimes there should be flexibility available for prosecutors who are dealing with unique situations.
“I think we hire well educated, young attorneys and we empower them with a discretion to resolve a case as appropriate in the public’s interest,” Higgins said. "I think by doing that we allow these prosecutors to make the best decisions on each case rather than setting a policy on each case. It allows us to do things like pretrial diversion with the more minor crimes or a situation where someone has made a mistake.”
“I certainly believe those programs are appropriate under the right circumstances and sometimes I describe it as the difference between human frailty and genuine evil. There are those types of cases where you are a younger, college-aged student who makes a mistake but is willing to work with us and entertain a diversion program, or the veteran who has a substance abuse problem. What was called the Valor Act is now called the Brave Act so we have the ability to work with the VA to direct them to the services that they need under the court’s supervision.”
Higgins said there is another category of cases, which are often violent assaults, where individuals don’t qualify for those second chances, need to be prosecuted to the highest level of the law, and believes incarceration is appropriate when they endanger the safety of a victim or the Cape and Islands as a whole.
Galibois said he has shown a commitment to community through various fundraisers and charities. He has been a member of several boards in Bourne, where he bought his first home in 1996 with his wife Nikki. He helped create 1,000 meals for an End Hunger Group during the pandemic and signed up to work at mass vaccination sites among many other things, he said.
“I have a long history of committing myself to my communities and will continue to be committed to community engagement,” Galibois said. “I look at this position as an extension of what I have done and an opportunity to help others in a new way during some of their darkest times by ensuring justice.”
Higgins said his commitment to community stems from his bloodline. Both of his parents and his grandfather were special agents in the FBI.
“I grew up in a family devoted to public service, specifically law enforcement” he said. “I love this job and if I didn’t love the profession and think this was a calling to help the community then I wouldn’t be in this job or running in this race. I really love this job and feel like it is a great way to help this community.”