AGAWAM – A longtime school committee member and attorney said he was not running for re-election this year because he expected to be too busy as legal proceedings – suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic – are expected to resume soon .
Anthony Bonavita, a 16-year-old school committee member, announced that he would not run for re-election in November. Although nomination papers won’t be available until May, he said he wanted to give other potential candidates enough time to think about a run and get it started.
“I will be very busy for the next year or two because of the backlog the court is facing and taking on new cases,” he said. “I have to spend all of my time on the serious cases I deal with.”
Bonavita is a 42 year criminal defense attorney and runs his own law firm on Main Street in Springfield. Most of his trials are tried in the Hampden County’s Supreme Court, but he also tries criminal matters in the District Court, he said.
Access to the Roderick Ireland Courthouse, which houses the Hampden County Superior Court, Springfield District Court and several offices, has been severely restricted since Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, Bonavita said he virtually attended some hearings, some court hearings, and several pre-trial hearings. He’s also done a lot of looking for cases, but trials have been on hold for more than a year and he believes there will be a lot of catching up to do as cases have been on hold for more than a year.
“The judges have done a great job keeping this moving, but there is still a lot to be done,” he said.
Bonavatia said he currently has between 25 and 30 clients with criminal cases pending. Some are at the beginning of the trial, others were on trial a year ago, and the rest are somewhere in between.
“Some face heavier penalties than others, but everyone has to be treated equally,” he said.
The delay was difficult for suspects. Some have been held without bail, and even those who have been released have had their lives largely put on hold until their cases can be resolved, he said.
He continues to do a lot of research on the cases, reading and listening to videos of interviews and examining footage from police cameras. However, there are some jobs that have been difficult to do, such as sending investigators to question witnesses and knocking on doors.
The state plans to move trials to the cinemas on the former Eastfield Mall for at least a year, as there is more space there for social distancing. Going back to Agawam from Eastfield Mall to have meetings, some of which start at 6 p.m., will be difficult, Bonavita said.
“I don’t want to just sit down or miss meetings,” he said.
As a member of the school committee, it’s not just about attending two meetings a month. Bonavita said it takes time to research and read information, and he is chairing the budget subcommittee, which includes additional meetings and work.
Bonavita has been with the Agawam since the 1980s, initially as a city attorney and later on the city council for four years from 1999 to 2003. In 2003 he ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Richard Cohen and two years later he decided to return to town politics running for the school committee.
He said he was not ruling out future candidates for office, but he believes he and many others in the justice system will spend the next two years catching up on the cases caused by the pandemic.
“I really enjoyed working as an elected civil servant. I’ve always been honest and gave my opinion without reservation, ”said Bonavita.
Although he has argued in the past with his colleagues and mayors on the school committee over disagreements about how best to deal with a problem, he has always ended the debates warmly.
“It was a very positive process and I met a lot of very nice people and made a lot of good friends,” he said.
The list includes Mayor Richard Cohen, who had a fierce election campaign but later became friends, and current Mayor William Sapelli, who was previously deputy superintendent and then superintendent when Bonavita was first elected.
“There is no question that his knowledge and history brings a lot to the table and that cannot be replaced,” said Sapelli.
He acknowledged that sometimes he and Bonavita do not always agree on a subject, but recognize that the debate is healthy. Even if they have to agree, disagree, they never took it personally.