Rollins shows her mettle

For years, showdowns in the criminal justice system often followed a predictable storyline: A judge used his or her discretion to lean toward the side of compassion for a defendant and the district attorney’s office — sometimes with the loud backing of law enforcement officials — slammed the move and declared go-easy judges an impediment to the delivery of justice and efforts to hold offenders accountable for their actions.

Enter Rachael Rollins.

The Suffolk County district attorney, who just completed her first year in office, vowed to upend the usual ways of that world — and no one can say she hasn’t kept her word.

The most recent evidence came yesterday, when Supreme Judicial Court Justice David Lowy sided with Rollins in a case in which her office tangled with two district court judges in a role reversal that had the DA looking to dismiss a case while the two jurists insisted otherwise.

The case involved in the plight of Osman Bilal, who pleaded guilty at age 19 in 2011 to stealing jewelry from a downtown Boston street vendor. He paid a fine and was put on probation for a year.

The misdemeanor conviction isn’t something anyone would want trailing through life, but it wouldn’t ordinarily have dire consequences. In Bilal’s case, however, because he is a Somali immigrant who holds a permanent resident status but is not a US citizen, the conviction meant he was subject to deportation and not having his green card renewed by immigration officials.

Rollins has emphasized that her office will consider not only the specific facts and circumstances of each case, but also any “collateral consequences” that could follow from the way a case is handled. She has said the DA’s office will look to deliver justice in a broader sense that weighs all the factors at play.

Because Bilal appeared to have turned his life around — he works 55 to 60 hours a week at a North End restaurant whose owner praised him in a letter to the court — and because the conviction could have led to him being sent back to a country he fled with his family when he was 2 days old, Rollins’s office sought to clear his record.

In November, Rollins’s general counsel, Donna Patalano, and Bilal’s defense attorney, Kelly Cusack, appeared before Judge Michael Coyne in Boston Municipal Court to jointly request a new trial in the case. He agreed, and Patalano promptly filed a motion to dismiss the case.

But several days later, a livid Coyne ordered the two lawyers back to court after learning the judge who heard the original case in 2011, Sally Kelly, had denied four earlier motions for a new trial. He vacated his order for a new trial, reinstated Bilal’s conviction, and turned the case back to Kelly, who again denied the motion for a new trial. Coyne said the lawyers had “misled” him by not disclosing Kelly’s earlier rulings, though they were part of the case file he had.

The DA’s office filed an emergency petition to a single justice of the SJC, and Lowy ruled yesterday that there was nothing improper in Coyne’s initial ruling and that the DA’s move to drop charges could not be reversed days later by a judge.

“When an individual has worked so hard to take accountability for their actions and turned their life around, I will not sit idly by when cruel and extreme collateral consequences impede their ability to move beyond their past,” Rollins said in a statement yesterday. “No one is their worst moment.”

The case carries an echo of a similar story from September of last year, when Rollins’s effort to drop charges against a demonstrator protesting against a Straight Pride Parade were blocked by a Boston district court judge. The DA’s office took that issue to the SJC, which also ruled in Rollins’s favor.

Against the backdrop of a national climate in which President Trump has sought to drum up support for harsher immigration policies by spotlighting horrific crimes committed by immigrants, the DA’s office gave Bilal preferential treatment because of his immigrant status, and it’s not hiding from that.

“We were doing this for one purpose only, because of the unjust collateral consequences of the federal immigration law,” Patalano told Lowy Tuesday in explaining why the office sought a new trial in the case.

Globe columnist Adrian Walker says Rollins did the right thing. For her part, the DA is showing no hesitation to use the full authority of her office to upend the status quo, a lesson judges in Suffolk County have now received twice.

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The Supreme Judicial Court voided medical parole regulations drafted by the Baker administration, ruling that the Department of Correction was onerous in its treatment of inmates seeking compassionate release. (CommonWealth)

A bill filed by Rep. Michael Soter would make it easier for vets to obtain medical marijuana, but critics warn the legislation creates dangerous shortcuts. (CommonWealth)

State Comptroller Andrew Maylor is leaving after a year on the job to take a post at Merrimack College. (Eagle-Tribune)

Costas Panagopoulos of Northeastern University and Rep. Carmine Gentile provide an update on the Massachusetts Citizens United commission. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

In an effort to distance itself from the “Gateway to Cape Cod” title it has carried for years, Wareham has undergone a rebranding campaign with the slogan “It’s Better Before the Bridges” — much to the displeasure of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he doesn’t have the votes to block a move to call witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Former governor Michael Dukakis and his wife Kitty Dukakis throw in with Ed Markey in his Democratic primary battle with Joe Kennedy. (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Worcester Red Sox announce the formation of the WooSox Foundation, which promptly gives $25,000 to the Worcester Public Library Foundation and awards four $10,000 scholarships. (Telegram & Gazette)

Hyundai unveils a very Boston-oriented Super Bowl commercial featuring John Krasinski, Chris Evans, Rachel Dratch, and David Ortiz. (MetroWest Daily News)

In Weymouth’s 189-unit public housing complex, some are open to private management to improve conditions. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

Members of the state board of education urged dramatic steps on the part of the state education department in advance of a report on the Boston Public Schools, where dozens of schools are mired at the bottom of statewide performance measures. (Boston Globe)

Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, an Argentine immigrant and dean of a graduate school at UCLA, is the sole finalist for the chancellor’s post at the University of Massachusetts Boston. (State House News Service)

The chief operating officer of the Boston Public Schools, John Hanlon, has been on administrative leave since January 15, but the district is not saying why. (Boston Herald)

Lisa Guisbond of Citizens for Public Schools says state Education Commission Jeff Riley’s proposal for allowing teachers to win certification without passing a key exam is a crack in the armor of high-stakes testing. (CommonWealth)

The chairman of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology was arrested and charged with lying about his connections to a Chinese university. (Boston Globe)

With contract negotiations between the Acushnet Teachers Association and the school administration progressing at a sluggish pace, a new group has emerged, hoping to facilitate an agreement in the longstanding dispute. (Standard-Times)

Holy Cross clears an administrator who was accused of ignoring me-too complaints. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Gov. Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders made the case for the administration’s sweeping health care bill, which emphasizes increased primary care and mental health services, at legislative hearing. (Boston Globe)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will soon start screening passengers for coronavirus at Logan Airport. (Herald News) Colleges start to cancel study-abroad programs in China. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Globe columnist Shirley Leung says Environmental Secretary Kathleen Theoharides is on the hot seat as the Baker administration official charged with getting support from other states for the Transportation Climate Initiative, which is facing resistance because it will lead to higher gas prices. Leung seems on board. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

The Guardian says it will no longer accept advertising money from oil and gas companies. (The Guardian)