HAVERHILL — Local attorney Marsha Kazarosian made a name for herself nationally in 1999 when she won a landmark discrimination lawsuit on behalf of women against the Haverhill Country Club.
Over the years, she has also represented victims of police misconduct, such as excessive force by officers. She is an expert in civil rights and discrimination.
Now Kazarosian is joining a judge, law enforcement leaders and other top professionals who will be responsible for keeping police across Massachusetts accountable for their actions.
Kazarosian has been appointed to the newly created Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission — POST for short. She is one of nine members of the group. Their work begins as the nation debates issues such as the use of force by officers and racial profiling.
The commission will create a mandatory certification process for police officers in Massachusetts — essentially a list of standards they must meet to be licensed for the job. The commission will also create methods of stripping officers of their certification in cases of misconduct, and handing out other punishments such as suspensions or reprimands.
The POST group is responsible for boosting the relationship between police and the communities they serve. Kazarosian and her fellow commissioners will work to improve accountability and transparency of police departments, build public trust in police, and provide better training for officers, organizers of the commission said.
The commission will keep a close eye on police departments across the state — investigating and settling claims of misconduct; and maintaining databases of training, certification and internal affairs records for all officers. The commission will be responsible for ensuring that officers' training and misconduct records are available to their current and prospective police departments.
The POST Commission begins its work as the murder trial of former Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer Derek Chauvin is underway. He is charged with killing George Floyd, 46, a Black man whose neck was pinned under Chauvin's knee for about nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down during his arrest May 25, 2020, for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.
Kazarosian is a partner at the firm of Kazarosian Costello LLP in Haverhill, where her focus is on civil rights law, discrimination cases and police misconduct cases.
When contacted by The Eagle-Tribune, Kazarosian said she is unable to comment on her appointment at this time, but will discuss it publicly in the near future.
Study: State must regulate police
A report released by State Auditor Suzanne Bump in November 2019 said Massachusetts has one of the highest time requirements for police training in the nation — a mandatory 40 hours annually per officer. But, the study said, the state fails to provide enough training opportunities so officers can meet the requirement. The state also has no way to hold officers and their communities accountable for meeting the training requirement, the study said.
Bump called on Massachusetts lawmakers to establish the POST Commission and set minimum training standards for police, regulate training programs, and set other requirements for officers to maintain their job certification.
State Attorney General Maura Healey was required to appoint an attorney to the POST Commission. That attorney had to be nominated by the Civil Rights and Social Justice Section Council of the Massachusetts Bar Association. Healey named Kazarosian to that position.
Kazarosian joins other professionals from across the state — including a police chief, a judge, a psychologist, a chaplain, a lawyer and a social worker — who were also appointed to the commission. She is the only member who has done her professional work in the Merrimack Valley.
Kazarosian is an experienced trial attorney who has been practicing law in Massachusetts since 1982, handling high-profile cases that have gained her recognition in New England and across the country, according to a press release from Gov. Charlie Baker and the Attorney General's Office.
"By establishing a Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, the Commonwealth is taking an important step to improve public safety and increase trust between members of law enforcement and the communities they serve," Baker said. "We are pleased to appoint a diverse range of experts to the POST Commission, and look forward to their work to create a more effective, just and accountable law enforcement system in Massachusetts."
"Each of these appointees brings unique expertise and experience to this commission as we institute meaningful reform in our state and local law enforcement departments,” Healey said.
Kazarosian has wide range of experience
Kazarosian is a past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and continues to serve on the bar’s executive management board. She began her career as a criminal defense attorney with the Essex County Bar Advocates and eventually shifted her focus to civil rights and discrimination cases.
In the gender discrimination suit on behalf of women against the Haverhill Country Club in 1999, Kazarosian won a $3.9 million judgment for the plaintiffs, arguing successfully that the club gave preferential treatment to male members and treated female members unfairly. That judgement was later upheld by the state appeals court. It was the first time a state’s public accommodations law was said to apply to discrimination in a country club setting.
Kazarosian later shifted to representing plaintiffs in misconduct and excessive force cases against police officers.
Kazarosian has consistently received honors from her peers. She has been named a Super Lawyer by New England Super Lawyers Magazine each year since 2006 in the areas of civil rights, personal injury litigation and family law. She was most recently included on the Top 50: 2020 Women Massachusetts Super Lawyers List, and has also been included in the list of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in New England.
POST members experts on police, legal issues
Kazarosian's fellow members on the POST Commission include experts on state law, labor issues, law enforcement, minority issues, psychology, oversight of state agencies, and the impact of crimes on victims.
Other commission members appointed by the attorney general are: Lawrence Calderone, chair and president of the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Policy Group and president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association; and Larry Ellison, a detective in the Boston Police Department's School Unit.
As a member of the Massachusetts Joint Labor Management Committee, Calderone represents police unions in labor contract negotiations with communities across the state. Ellison previously served as president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, where he was instrumental in advocating for more officers of color in higher-ranking positions, protecting minority officers’ rights, and securing pro bono legal help for minority officers.
The governor appointed three members to the commission: Retired Judge Margaret Hinkle, who served on the Superior Court of Massachusetts and will chair the POST Commission; Michael Wynn, chief of the Pittsfield Police Department who has been an instructor at multiple police academies; and Charlene Luma, a licensed social worker and chief of the Victim Witness Assistance Program for the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.
Three members of the commission are joint appointees of the governor and attorney general. They are: Dr. Hanya Bluestone, a licensed psychologist and CEO of Labyrinth Psychological Services in Holden, which provides specialized trauma and behavioral medicine treatments to patients of all ages; Clementina Chéry, an ordained senior chaplain and co-founder and CEO of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Boston, a center of healing, teaching and learning for families and communities impacted by homicide, trauma, grief and loss; and Kimberly West, a partner in the Ashcroft Law Firm in Boston who represents clients in investigations involving federal and state agencies.
West also served as chief of the Criminal Bureau of the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General. There she led a team of experts in prosecuting a range of crimes and serving in the Office of the Inspector General's Council to provide oversight of state agencies.