There’s a competitive field Democratic candidates are vying for the right to challenge Tory Brandon and Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson in this year’s election. No candidate, however, touts local attorney Nick Bernier.
Bernier enters the race with a blue ribbon committee of local Democratic support that includes members of the Beacon Hill delegation such as State Representatives Carole Fiola and Alan Silvia, Senate Ways and Means Speaker Mike Rodrigues and county and regional elected officials such as Bristol County Probate Registry and former Mayor of Taunton Tom Hoye, and Joe Ferreira of the Governor’s Council.
When he recently joined me on the air, Bernier attributed the support to his years of giving back to his community.
“I did a lot of volunteer work,” said Bernier. “I’ve done a lot of different community service. So you meet these officials everywhere. When I started talking about running last summer, they said ‘Come on Nick, go for it!’. So I went there.”
Prior to running his own law firm, Bernier served on the Charter Commission and Finance Advisory Committee at Swansea. In 2012, Bernier lost a close election for Governor’s Council by just 37 votes, triggering the largest recount in state history. Subsequently, Bernier worked as a prosecutor in the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office. He also successfully led the electoral campaigns of two of his supporters, Senator Rodrigues and Governor Ferreira’s adviser.
Bernier also spoke about one of his main supporters who is not an elected official, Nelson De Gouveia, the former chief of law enforcement at the Bristol County Sheriff‘s Office. De Gouveia, once an employee and supporter of Sheriff Hodgson, is an early member of Bernier’s team, providing him with invaluable insight into what’s going on at the BCSO.
Bernier said his ability to form coalitions of people with the right experience makes him the best candidate to usher in reform at the sheriff’s office.
“The reason he’s with me is because I’m listening,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I involve the right people. I listen and I know what we need to do to get to where we are, and sometimes that’s not my opinion. It’s someone else’s idea.”
During Bernier’s time as a prosecutor, he witnessed firsthand the dangers of being thrown into the criminal justice system with few resources available for people to effectively reintegrate into society. Bernier thinks the current BCSO leadership spends too much time trying to portray itself as a quasi-law enforcement agency and not enough time focusing on resources that will help people not reoffend or prevent the smuggling of narcotics into the prison.
“At a minimum, get the drugs out of prisons,” Bernier insisted. “And really, what we should be doing is hiring more advisers, focusing more on corrections and reform than on the deputy deputy sheriff thing. We have 47 deputy deputy sheriff superintendents, and the problem is whether we really need these military parades. How many times has the sheriff used his boat or his command center – and also, is that really his role?”
While strongly criticizing the sheriff’s management of our local correctional system, Bernier offered some praise for the work crew program. The program allows people about to be released, often people with a trade or skill, to perform supervised community service outside of the correctional facility. Bernier participated in this program and said it would be one of the few things he would continue as a sheriff.
“When done right, I love this program,” Bernier said. “It’s a program that I think should continue, because you’re helping the community. You’re giving inmates a second chance. So instead of sitting around while they serve their sentence, they’re actually doing something constructive, and when they come out they can hopefully use that experience to keep improving.”
Bernier and I also discussed the low morale of BCSO employees he heard about during the campaign and the need to close the centuries-old Ash Street Jail and his plan to use the ICE facility. now defunct in Dartmouth as a detention center in His place.
You can listen to the full interview at 1:50 p.m. here:
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