BOSTON There are new developments in the state drug lab scandal, from both the governor and the attorney general.
On Wednesday, Gov. Deval Patrick said the state will need $30 million for the initial costs from the scandal. And Attorney General Martha Coakley said Patrick should appoint an independent investigator to take a broad look at how the now-closed Hinton lab operated.
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The governor’s office is expected to ask lawmakers Thursday for the $30 million to pay for courts, prosecutors, public defenders and the agencies dealing with the scandal. Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez said the money would come from one-time tax and legal settlements and, if that’s not enough, more could come from the state’s so called “rainy day” fund.
Additionally, an aide to the governor issued a statement promising that Patrick will quickly appoint an independent investigator to review overall drug lab operations. That’s in response to Coakley’s written request, which said “it’s 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.”
Former state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger knows something about independent investigations. Among other things, he led the task force formed after the independent investigation into the Probation Department.
“I think this is a good move on the part of the attorney general,” Harshbarger said. “This is something she is obviously deeply concerned about. To be willing as attorney general to say that even the attorney general cannot be seen as totally independent takes a lot of courage.”
Last week, various groups of defense lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union called on Coakley to have an independent investigator take over the broad review of the lab. They’re concerned that the scandal could go beyond so-called “rogue chemist” Annie Dookhan, who is charged with falsifying thousands of drug tests for criminal cases. The legal groups also say they only learned from media reports about some key details, such as Dookhan exchanging emails with a prosecutor while she was allegedly tampering with evidence.
ACLU Executive Director Carol Rose is pleased that Coakley has now agreed to the groups’ request.
“This is just the first step in understanding — toward beginning to understand — what happened with the drug lab scandal and how we can restore the integrity of the criminal justice system,” Rose said.
Coakley’s office will still oversee the criminal investigation. Dookhan has pleaded not guilty and was released on $10,000 bail. The governor has appointed attorney David Meier to oversee the so called “war room,” which is identifying the criminal cases affected. The courts are now reviewing those cases and releasing some of those whose cases involved Dookhan.
This post was updated with the Morning Edition feature version.