Respected Northeast prosecutor leaves DA’s office

St. Hubert’s graduate Jacqueline Coelho will enter private practice after 21 years in public service.

Coelho (left) led a team of assistant DAs at the annual National Night Out on July 31 at Lincoln High School. PHOTO: WILLIAM KENNY

A St. Hubert’s High School graduate who rose to become chief of the District Attorney’s Northeast Unit has left the DA’s office after more than two decades as a city prosecutor.

Jacqueline Coelho said she is starting a new chapter in her career and will enter private practice. Her last day as a prosecutor was last Friday.

The Northeast Times wrote about Coelho in 2013 after her appointment to lead the DA’s Northeast Unit. Prior to that, Coelho served as a trial attorney handling homicide and violent crimes cases. As the Northeast chief, she was a leading public face of the DA’s Office in a part of the city where she grew up, attended school and continues to call home.

Assistant DA Stacy Hughes has been appointed as the new Northeast chief.

“(Coelho) was good for the police and the community,” said Police Capt. Shawn Trush, commander of Northeast Detectives. “She’s a neighborhood girl who worked her way up. We’re sorry to see her go.”

Coelho, a married mother of three, earned special recognition last fall when her high school alma mater inducted her into its hall of fame. She’s a member of the Class of 1989. Coelho earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from La Salle University and her law degree from Temple. She interned for the DA while at Temple and fulfilled a longtime dream when the prosecutor’s office hired her right after graduation.

“(Growing up) I definitely watched a lot of Law and Order and I really had a firm sense of justice and wanted to help people,” Coelho said. “There’s a saying that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. And I’ve been doing that just about 21 years. Even when it was really, really busy and super hectic, it was always very rewarding and I felt good about what I was doing.”

Coelho prosecuted 68 jury trials during her tenure and countless bench trials, preliminary hearings and sentencing hearings. Eleven of those jury trials were in 2008.

“That was a lot,” she said.

She partnered with another assistant DA, Ed McCann, to prosecute the man who shot and killed Police Officer John Pawlowski in 2009 and was the lead prosecutor in the case against the drunken motorist who fatally struck motorcycle patrol Officer Brian Lorenzo on Interstate 95 in 2012. Both officers were Northeast residents.

“It’s a very rewarding job dealing with victims and trying to help them get justice,” Coelho said.

“The one thing they most want, you can’t give them. But I try to give them the justice and argue for them staunchly that the person who took their loved one should be held accountable.”

Coelho’s work in the field and the community were two of her priorities. During the Lorenzo investigation, a Pennsylvania trooper drove her up an I-95 on-ramp in the wrong direction to recreate the route that the defendant drove before striking Lorenzo’s motorcycle head-on.

Likewise, Coelho brought her whole cadre of about a dozen assistant DA’s on community bicycle rides in the 2nd and 15th police districts to promote non-violence. The group most recently turned out for a National Night Out gathering at Lincoln High School on Aug. 1.

“She was out on bikes and out on corners (with patrol cops) and at all the community meetings,” Trush said. “For her, it was a 24-hour job. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for you.”

Moving forward, Coelho will be working for an insurance company on civil cases, but she plans to stay involved locally.

“I have no plans to leave. I’ll be part of the community,” she said. “I’m a Northeast Philadelphian and have been that way for a long time.” ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.