Mass. high court vacates convictions against man whose attorney made racist posts

The highest court in Massachusetts has vacated sex trafficking convictions against a Dorchester man after the discovery of racist social media posts by his lawyer.

Anthony Dew, a Black man of Muslim faith, was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to human trafficking charges. But the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled to vacate his conviction and remand the case for a new trial because of the racist behavior and Facebook posts made and circulated by his court-appointed attorney, the late Richard Doyle.

In 2016, Doyle encouraged him to plead guilty in exchange for having a rape charge against him dropped. The SJC ruling said that Doyle's public social media posts and his behavior toward Dew were so biased that "we cannot credibly assume that Doyle's representation was not affected by his virulent anti-Muslim and racist views."

"We conclude that the conflict of interest inherent in counsel's bigotry against persons of the defendant's faith and race, which manifested during counsel's representation of the defendant, deprived the defendant of his right to effective assistance of counsel — a right upon which our entire system of criminal justice depends to ensure a 'fair trial,' " said the ruling, written by Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt.

Doyle died in 2021, the same year that Dew discovered Facebook posts containing racist slurs and disparaging Muslims. Some of the posts were made while Doyle was representing Dew. In 2022, a lower court judge rejected Dew's request for a new trial ruling that it was not possible to determine if Doyle's views affected Dew's case. Now that the high court vacated his conviction, the decision for a new trial is now up to the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, which said it is reviewing the case.

"The anti-Muslim and racist sentiments expressed by this defense attorney are reprehensible," said Suffolk County District Attorney spokesman James Borghesani. "While we vigorously pursue convictions in every prosecution we bring forward, we recognize the societal imperative of effective and unbiased representation for all defendants."

The SJC ruling also said that when Dew met with Doyle, Doyle demanded that Dew remove his prayer cap known as a kufi. The ruling said that Doyle told Dew, “Don’t come in this room like that ever."

Coincidentally, Dew was released on parole Thursday, according to his attorney Edward Gaffney.

"I'm extremely grateful that the court agreed with our position that Anthony's constitutional rights were violated as a result of attorney Doyle's racism and bigotry," Gaffney said. "I'm pleased to see that the court takes racism seriously."

Gaffney said the SJC ruling will likely be used in other similar cases. He said he represents other clients who allege that Doyle's racist posts pose a conflict of interest and they are seeking new trials.

In a concurring opinion, retiring Justice Elspeth Cypher wrote that she wanted to clarify that there was no place for racist behavior in court and "once an actual conflict has been established there is no need to prove that the actual conflict prejudiced the defendant."

"We must be aware of and concerned with the confidence of not just this defendant, and not just all Black and Muslim clients represented by Attorney Doyle, but rather all Black persons and members of the Muslim faith in our community, not simply those
who have come into contact with the criminal justice system," Cypher wrote.

Doyle was appointed to represent Dew by the state's public defender agency, the Committee for Public Counsel Services. The agency said it has notified more than 2,500 of Doyle's clients and has assigned independent attorneys to assess 69 cases of those who requested legal counsel. It said there are three active requests for new trials and it will assign more attorneys as needed.

"As the Supreme Judicial Court made clear again today, the right to effective counsel is fundamental to our criminal legal system," said CPCS Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti. "We have zero tolerance when it comes to racist, hateful rhetoric from our attorneys — both from staff and members of the private bar. If it becomes apparent that one of our attorneys cannot uphold this fundamental mandate, we will take immediate action."

This article was originally published on June 15, 2023.


Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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