Given all that has happened to us in the preceding year, it might not seem at first glance a story very relevant to this community when the Boston Globe began printing details Dec. 20 of the questionably cozy relationship between disgraced state lab chemist Annie Dookhan and prosecutors around the state.
Dookhan is the former Massachusetts state laboratory chemist who resigned in March even as evidence mounted of her alleged incompetence in the testing and handling of drug samples in cases brought by the Commonwealth against citizens accused of possessing and/or distributing illegal narcotics.
More important for the purposes of this column is that fact there is some evidence that Dookhan, now under criminal indictment, saw herself not as an impartial scientist rooting out the truth whether it worked for or against defendants, but rather as an extension of police and prosecutors looking to game the system against drug defendants. She even went so far as to conjure self-important titles for herself in e-mails for which she had no approval nor credentials, including “special agent of operations” for the FBI where she never worked.
She is alleged to have altered test results to be sure those results would make it easier for prosecutors to either win cases outright, or extract plea deals from defendants convinced the odds were stacked against them by state lab evidence. Sometimes that might have meant saying, say, a bag a marijuana weighed just enough to charge someone with dealing rather than just possession. Dookhan is also alleged, among other irregularities, to have taken drug evidence home without checking it out in a chain of custody, only to return it to the state labs later under cagey circumstances.
In the Dec. 20 article the Globe recounted e-mails between Dookhan and prosecutors around the state wherein those prosecutors appeared to be playing on Dookhan’s alleged desire to be seen as a crime fighter rather than a mere scientist. One Suffolk County prosecutor promised to take Dookhan to an upscale restaurant in exchange for her assistance.
“Hey, Annie, you’re the best!” Suffolk County District Attorney Alice Callahan wrote in July 2011, according to the Globe. “The ton of weed case pled after your testimony. I think the defense was impressed that a tiny woman could lift those bails [sic] of marijuana. I owe you drinks, Gypsy Bar:)”
I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to muse about the likely reasons as to how Dookhan kept her job for so long after ample evidence began surfacing that she was acting as a kind of rogue extension of the prosecutorial system in the Commonwealth.
I bring all of this up because it was only on December 5 that it was revealed — again by the Boston Globe — that the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC) told Suffolk County Daniel F. Conley to, more or less, go screw himself in a case where Conley had accused a Boston Municipal Court judge of judicial wrongdoing.
Conley filed his complaint two years ago against Judge Dougan because Dougan had the temerity to side more often than not against prosecutors in situations where prosecutors had not sufficiently made their cases against defendants — at least that is how Dougan interpreted it.
All of this would amount to little much more than a footnote in local legal skirmishing, except Conley’s becoming somewhat of a constitutionally dangerous man in the wake of his loss before the CJC, declaring that “the [CJC] offered no explanation for its decision,” he said. “The entire process took place in secret and out of public view.” Except the CJC’s deliberations have always taken place out of public view, and Conley knows it despite bloviating to the contrary. More ominously, Conley has been bleating to anyone who will listen that perhaps it’s time we started electing judges in Massachusetts so as to make them more accountable to him.
Actually, he’s been saying more accountable to voters, but we all know what Conley really means is he wants judges to be more accountable to prosecutors when those judges fail to rubber stamp the actions of prosecutors.
Just to be clear and fair, let us start from the assumption that most police and prosecutors and state lab employees are honest. And we all know the law requires that you and I are entitled to presumption of innocence in criminal cases unless the state and its enormous resources prove otherwise.
But as Annie Dookhan and any number of previous cases involving corrupt police and prosecutors have proven, very often the so-called good guys are really the bad guys, using underhanded and borderline-to-actually illegal methods to get the results they want.
Having one judge who tilts now and again in favor of defendants does not make unfair a system where most judges exhibit substantial deference for police and prosecutors in assuming automatically they've done their jobs fairly and impartially.
Those of us in this community have relied heavily — and will continue to rely — upon a judiciary that is as independent as possible from police and prosecutors who tend to be conservative in their political outlooks.
Annie Dookhan proves why Daniel Conley is a dangerous man when he begins agitating in favor of electing judges because one judge chooses to be independent from prosectuors. If Conley really believes that judges should be elected, we should do whatever we can to make sure he is never elected to anything again.