State House Roundup: Chemical Peel
THE STATE HOUSE — Annie Dookhan’s name will not quickly be forgotten, the depth, breadth and full extent of her misdeeds still being unraveled this week as the layers of her chemical scheme at a state crime lab slowly began to peel away.
This is certainly not what Gov. Deval Patrick had in mind a few months ago when he was pushing for non-violent drug offenders to be released early to ease prison overcrowding. And it’s not what prosecutors want to be spending their next few weeks (months, a year?) sorting through.
Over 60,000 drug evidence samples were handled by Dookhan since 2003 with 34,000 cases hinging on the results of lab tests. All of which must now be examined after serious breaches in testing protocol starting in June 2011 were unearthed.
Separately, another calamity had the political establishment, strangely, cheering wildly. The fishing industry in Massachusetts, long a staple of the region’s economy and heritage, is a natural disaster. The federal disaster declaration from the U.S. Commerce Department and Sen. John Kerry’s likely success at inserting $100 million for the industry into a Congressional farm aid bill, could provide the economic relief struggling fishermen have long been seeking as they cope with catch limits, depleting fish stocks, and the potential for even tighter restrictions.
Patrick is fond of talking about how the vast majority of public employees he works with are so dedicated to their jobs that they run to work. Dookhan apparently was one of those employees, testing as many as 50 percent more drug samples than her colleagues at a time when testing volume per chemist was on the decline.
Health and Human Service Secretary Judy Ann Bigby counted this as one of the “red flags” missed by supervisors, three of which have either resigned, been dismissed, or are on their way out as part of the bloodletting that must occur when screw-ups of this magnitude happen in government.
Still unclear are Dookhan’s motives, her exact methods and the number of cases she might have tipped the scales for, literally, to keep drug offenders behind bars. Attorney General Martha Coakley is investigating, and all public safety officials would admit publicly is that she had admitted to “several types of behavior.”
“I don’t know the motive of why she did this. I don’t believe it was simple sloppiness,” Bigby said.
Describing the new “boiler room” the state plans to set up to sort through the mess, Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan said, “The central office would have to work in conjunction with the district attorneys, with the defense bar and with the court to try and understand what the solution will be when we grasp what the entire range of what this problem is.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley called the lab situation a “catastrophic failure” on Friday.
“If someone is held or convicted on tainted evidence, we won’t hesitate to take every appropriate step to bring the case to light and correct the record,” he said in a statement. “But if there are credible facts and evidence to support the legitimacy of an implicated case, we’ll work just as hard to ensure that the defendant is held accountable.”
The Patrick administration said it will be looking for someone outside of state government to lead the effort, preferably a neutral party acceptable to both prosecutors and the defense bar. Paging all retired judges. And if that doesn’t pan out, Scott Harshbarger is probably available.
After a brief Sept. 11 détente and a presumably sincere happy birthday Twitter message from Elizabeth Warren to Scott Brown, all pretense of cordiality in the U.S. Senate race was dropped with the first televised debate between the two looming next week.
So far, Brown’s campaign may as well have hired the Sears marketing department to consult for his campaign. He cooks. He cleans. He drives around. He votes with Democrats. Come see the softer side of Scott Brown.
While Elizabeth Warren was busy casting herself as a “The Fighter” complete with an endorsement and ad featuring Lowell boxing legend Arthur Ramahlo, Brown and 6th Congressional district candidate Richard Tisei were busy trotting out endorsements from local Democrats around the state.
At perhaps an all-time low in Washington, bipartisanship is in vogue in Massachusetts politics, at least for Republicans this election cycle.
So loathe to insert themselves in the partisan wars being waged on the national stage, the MassGOP even tabled a vote this week at their state committee meeting over whether to adopt the national Republican platform, barring a Boston Globe reporter from the public meeting after the paper paid considerable attention to the issue this week.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones may equate platforms to doorstops or Republican budgets, equally meaningless, but neither Brown nor Tisei wanted to be associated with the national agenda, a fact Democrats were more than happy to highlight.
One Republican who could have cared less either way was Hanson state Rep. Dan Webster who unexpectedly ended his reelection campaign, presumably to deal with his own legal issues and a threat of disbarment. The MassGOP moved quickly to replace him on the ballot with his former campaign manager Karen Barry, who ran a strong, last-minute write-in campaign against her former boss.
The lengthy 15-month search for a new CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority also ended this week with former Partners HealthCare executive and Dukakis-era MBTA chief Thomas Glynn emerging as the preferred candidate.
Given Glynn’s lack of aviation experience and the time it took to settle on him as a replacement for Thomas Kinton, some transportation watchers were openly wondering whether anyone else wanted the job, especially in light of the fact that he will likely be paid less than Kinton’s $295,000 a year salary.
Patrick’s turning to former Mass Business Roundtable director Alan Macdonald and Northern New England Laborers’ District Council business manager Joe Bonfiglio to round out an expanded seven-member MassDOT board – minus Liz Levin – could also become telling in the months ahead. Macdonald once backed a 25-cent gas tax hike, but said this week he’s not focused on new revenue and open to all manner of long-term financing ideas.
The week also brought an answer to the question of how much it would cost to ruin Bill Galvin’s day? Answer: $15.
That’s how much pot legalization advocate Scott Gacek paid for the website domain votenoonquestion3.org, the same address listed in Galvin’s voter guide mailed out to every Massachusetts household.
What voters will find instead of a cogent argument against medical marijuana is a spoof site blaming pot for the pending apocalypse, Twinkie addiction and the demise of the Red Sox.
Jay Broadhurst, the real man behind the Question 3 opposition, failed to register the site he provided to Galvin for the guide, and Gacek swooped in on Tuesday for the hit.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Disasters to fix/celebrate, the bottom of a crime lab scandal still out of sight.