Patrick names legislator to be sheriff

Koutoujian takes over troubled Middlesex seat

Governor Deval Patrick lauded the work of Peter Koutoujian (left) as a legislator, victim’s advocate, and prosecutor. Governor Deval Patrick lauded the work of Peter Koutoujian (left) as a legislator, victim’s advocate, and prosecutor. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / January 15, 2011

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MEDFORD — Governor Deval Patrick appointed state Representative Peter J. Koutoujian yesterday as the next sheriff of Middlesex County, succeeding the late James V. DiPaola, who committed suicide in November amid an ethics inquiry of his office.

Koutoujian — a Waltham Democrat, a former assistant district attorney, and the affable son of a longtime Waltham city clerk — was surrounded at the announcement by Middlesex County police officers, prosecutors, relatives, and well-wishers in Cambridge District Court in Medford.

A graduate of Bridgewater State College and the New England School of Law, the 49-year-old Koutoujian has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He worked as a Middlesex prosecutor for four years before being elected to the State House in 1996, defeating a Democratic incumbent with the help of campaign manager Doug Rubin, who later became Patrick’s senior political adviser.

“My entire professional life and career have prepared me for this job, and I’m ready to do it now,’’ Koutoujian said.

Patrick’s decision to turn to a veteran lawmaker to lead a department facing scrutiny could draw criticism. At the same time, the state Probation Department is weathering reports of systemic patronage and interference by legislators.

“I looked at a lot of people for this job,’’ Patrick said, “and I got the very best candidate for this job, somebody I trust, somebody whose experience is broad and deep. It is in law enforcement, but it is not limited to law enforcement.’’

In his remarks, the governor focused on Koutoujian’s resume and his experience in working on behalf of victims, including work as a pro bono attorney for victims’ rights and on the board of a Waltham-based nonprofit, Reach Beyond Domestic Violence.

“As a lawmaker, a former assistant district attorney, and a longtime community advocate, Peter Koutoujian has the experience and the temperament to make a great sheriff,’’ Patrick said.

It was the latest decision by the governor to restore law enforcement agencies in a time of upheaval and intense public scrutiny.

On Thursday, he demanded the resignation of five members of the Parole Board after a review of the handling of a parolee who killed a Woburn police officer. On New Year’s Eve, Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien resigned after a Globe investigation and a review of his agency revealed systemic patronage abuses and sparked state and federal criminal probes.

DiPaola killed himself following news reports about his plan to simultaneously collect his salary and his pension and allegations that employees in the Sheriff’s Department paid cash bribes for promotions and favorable treatment. Before his suicide, DiPaola had denied any wrongdoing and decided to resign the post to which he had just won reelection, rather than accept a salary at the same time as his pension.

“I am very sorry indeed for the sad circumstances that necessitate this appointment,’’ Patrick said yesterday. “Sheriff DiPaola’s loss was no less a shock to his staff and the Sheriff’s Department and this community as it was to his family. But I am very confident indeed that Peter will build successfully on Sheriff DiPaola’s good work.’’

Laura R. Van Zandt, executive director of Reach Beyond Domestic Violence, called Koutoujian “the real deal when it comes to victims’ rights.’’

While she understood the questions being asked about the appointment of a Democratic legislator with ties to the governor, she said she had a different view of Koutoujian, based on his service.

“I thought of him as my guy, not the governor’s guy,’’ she said.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at