The Unstoppable Maura Healey

She’d never held political office. To become the nation’s first openly gay Attorney General, she trounced a Democratic insider. Now she’s going after casinos, the Olympics, overpaid CEOs, and the opiate epidemic. Just who does this woman think she is?

Healey returned to Boston to attend Northeastern University School of Law, known for its social-justice bent and its co-op system, and graduated in 1998. Returning this spring to deliver the commencement address, she told the graduating class that she’d attended the program in part because she’d heard through “the gay grapevine” that it was a supportive place to come out, even back in the ’90s. That very low-key comment was the first time she’d publicly spoken about coming out—which, in Massachusetts, was just fine. For the most part, she says, voters were far more intrigued by the fact that she’d been a professional basketball player than that she was gay.

After a year of clerking for a federal judge, Healey took a commercial litigation position at Hale & Dorr (later WilmerHale), representing businesses suing other businesses, or defending finance, high-tech, and biotech officers in a variety of lawsuits and investigations. Pro bono, she helped the team that supported the OutServe–Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s challenge to “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the Clinton-era directive that banned LGBT people from serving openly in the military. (They lost.) She soon found a niche representing sports teams, and worked with a group that helped the Red Sox get back the 2004 curse-breaking World Series baseball from Doug Mientkiewicz, the Sox first baseman who’d caught the final out and kept the ball. At Hale & Dorr, she met Gabrielle Wolohojian, a fellow lawyer and former editor of the Columbia Law Review; they’ve been together for eight years.

Healey worked in the private sector, but her family’s dedication to public service gnawed at her. In the summer of 2006, her father died of colon cancer after being bedridden for six months. “I thought, Maura, life is too short. Get off the stick,” she told the Boston Globe in 2014. When former Governor Deval Patrick named Wolohojian a Massachusetts appeals court judge in 2007, Healey went to work for Coakley, then the new attorney general, as chief of the AG’s civil rights division. Asked how the work was different when she moved from corporate law to Martha Coakley’s office, Healey says, “I didn’t have to keep track of my time in six-minute increments anymore.”

More seriously, she explains that in private practice, the client set the goal. The work in the AG’s office, by contrast, was far more complex—because figuring out the direction was part of the job. “Your goal is to serve the public interest,” she says. But who defines the public interest when different constituencies, beliefs, laws, and principles inevitably clash? Healey found it exciting to drill down on larger questions, with “a lot more freedom to think broadly” about a solution.

When Coakley decided to take on the federal DOMA lawsuit, she put Healey in charge of the effort, partnering with Mary Bonauto, of New England’s Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. After their historic victory, Coakley put Healey in charge of the public protection and the business and labor bureaus—which meant Healey was effectively running half of the AG’s office. She wanted to run the other half as well. As soon as Coakley stepped down to run for governor, Healey declared her own candidacy for what she calls “the best job in the world.”


On Healey’s first day in office, she faced a tangled mess: Partners HealthCare, which accounted for 31 percent of the state’s acute-care hospital revenue in 2012, had been buying up local hospitals and large physician practices. Politicians and healthcare advocates regularly criticized the corporation for effectively eliminating competition, keeping prices high, and ensuring that the most complicated (and most lucrative) cases were referred to one of its two big Boston hospitals, Brigham & Women’s and Massachusetts General. Partners claimed that continued expansion would help facilitate patient-care coordination and keep costs down. But so far, its legacy has proved otherwise: As Partners acquired new hospitals, insurance premiums and healthcare costs continued to go up. That’s why Partners’ proposed merger with Weymouth’s South Shore Hospital in 2012 triggered an antitrust investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice—the second in two years.

The AG’s office, then under Coakley, stepped in to negotiate a settlement that would address the Justice Department’s concerns. But her resulting proposal was widely criticized. The Health Policy Commission (HPC), an independent state agency designed to monitor the healthcare market, had concluded that the merger would increase total medical spending by between $23 million and $26 million each year. Partners then boldly proposed yet another merger—this time with the North Shore’s Hallmark Health System—which the HPC concluded would raise costs an additional $15.5 million to $23 million per year, not including increased insurance premiums.

Ignoring criticism, Coakley kept moving forward on the deal. In despair, four competing healthcare systems—Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Tufts Medical Center, Atrius Health, and Lahey Health—jointly filed a last-ditch objection with Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders, who had been charged with reviewing the mergers. Economists, consumer advocates, and others filed public comments opposing the deal as well.

A week after Coakley lost the governor’s race and Healey was elected attorney general, Judge Sanders openly expressed her doubts about the Partners deal. In a hearing, the judge intimated that Coakley had been pushing it through for political reasons; Coakley immediately objected. Sanders then asked whether the deal had her successor’s support. Impatiently, Coakley said, “She is not the attorney general yet. I have a responsibility until January 20 to uphold my constitutional responsibility,” adding that she herself had enforced all of her predecessor’s decisions. But Sanders wasn’t convinced, and opted to withhold a decision until the new AG could weigh in.

Six days into her term, Healey made her objections to the Partners merger clear. She publicly announced that if Sanders rejected the deal and the organization tried to go ahead with its plans, her office would sue. That was all Sanders needed to hear. She killed the deal, and Healey became known as a giant slayer.

Asked for comment, Partners sent an anodyne statement attributed to its new president and CEO, David Torchiana, saying the attorney general and Partners “share important goals,” including “high-quality care for patients, expanded access to mental health services and a collective effort to address the commonwealth’s opioid crisis,” adding that their offices have been and will continue working closely together. In other words, the new sheriff had their respect—although whether it’s enthusiastic or begrudging remains to be seen.