Coakley recuses herself in drug lab probe

Calls on Patrick to appoint independent counsel


FOLLOWING CALLS for Attorney General Martha Coakley to recuse herself from a broader probe into the functioning of the state drug lab at the center of an evidence tampering investigation, Coakley on Wednesday wrote to Gov. Deval Patrick supporting the appointment of an independent investigator.

“It is critical that all parties have unquestioned faith in that process from the beginning so that they will have full confidence in the conclusions drawn at the end. As a result, we are now requesting that the governor – in consultation with District Attorneys and defense counsel – appoint an independent investigator to conduct this broader review of the lab’s policies, practices, and oversight,” Coakley said.

Senior officials from the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and the American Civil Liberties Union last week expressed concern over Coakley’s office conducting an investigation into the drug lab, noting that the attorney general’s office prosecutes drug cases, supports the State Police unit that investigates drug cases, and also supports drug prosecutions brought by county district attorneys.

They called on Coakley to appoint, or ask for an independent investigator to be appointed.

Coakley’s aides last week said they shared the concerns over having a “thorough, fair investigation,” but did not indicate whether the attorney general would support or oppose the appointment of an independent investigator. A spokesman said last week that Coakley was “surprised” by the letter and would review it.

On Wednesday, Coakley said it’s important that the work of the independent investigator not interfere with her office’s ongoing criminal investigation, which has already led to some charges against laboratory chemist Annie Dookhan.

“The public deserves a criminal justice system that they can trust. We are moving forward with our criminal investigation, and stand ready to assist in any other way that we can in the pursuit of justice,” Coakley said in a statement.

The legal groups that urged Coakley to step down from the broader probe, which Gov. Patrick initially asked Coakley to undertake, said they were concerned about potential conflicts of interest for the attorney general.

The groups, as well as attorney Max Stern, argued for an independent investigator to be “given all resources, including subpoena power, to fully and thoroughly do the job.”

In a statement Wednesday, Martin Healy, chief legal counsel for the bar association, said, “The Massachusetts Bar Association applauds the attorney general’s decision in calling for a broader investigation into the drug lab, and looks forward to working with the governor on this pressing issue.”
Dookhan has admitted to police to tampering with drug samples at the Hinton Laboratory in Jamaica Plain, according to investigation documents previously released to prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The administration has identified 34,000 cases over the past nine years that Dookhan had a hand in testing drug samples and could have been tainted, so far resulting in dozens of inmates being released from jails and prison as the courts have set up special sessions to deal with the fallout from the situation.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
The list of cases includes 1,141 current inmates identified by attorney David Meier, who has been tapped by Patrick to lead a review of the impacted cases, as well as 35 individuals being held on bail awaiting trial in either district or superior court, 144 people on parole after serving time and being released, and 319 individuals who were once, but are no longer, under the court-ordered supervision of the Department of Youth Services.

Coakley’s broader probe of the lab has been led by Helene Kazanjian, chief of the Trial Division and a former federal prosecutor. Coakley has promised to hire independent forensic experts to “conduct an assessment of the reliability of the testing results.”