October 25, 2012: “Don’t Blame Me . . . “

So, here’s the first op-ed piece I submitted to The Boston Globe:

“Don’t Blame Me . . . ”

            Remember those heady, “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts” days? Remember, post Watergate, post Nixon’s cringe-worthy “I am not a crook,” how proud we were to tell the world we lived in the only state Tricky Dick didn’t win in 1972? That George McGovern, principled, fierce opponent to the Vietnam war and Nixon’s Democratic opponent, died on Sunday at the age of ninety recalls those smug bumper stickers—when hailing from Massachusetts was something to brag about.

These days? Not so much. Sure, MA progressives can crow about our same-sex marriage first-state-in-the-nation record. And we’re tickled pink that Massachusetts’ health care insurance reform law (aka as Romneycare until it wasn’t) inspired Obamacare. But a recent, shameful scandal worthy of Watergate sullies our state’s we’re-not quite-the-rest-of-you reputation and may ultimately prove that, indeed, Massachusetts is exactly like Texas or Louisiana.

This is not about our hapless, 69—93 Red Sox. This is not about The Whitey Bulger Affair (The title of a 2004 MA House Committee on Government Reform report, “Everything Secret Degenerates: The FBI’s Use of Murderers as Informants” perfectly sums up that scandal.) This is about our very own drug lab scandal.

60,000 tainted samples, 34,000 affected cases; such numbers grant First Class scandal status. No one yet knows the full impact of this criminal justice nightmare yet one thing already seems clear: thousands of cases will be thrown out and thousands of inmates will be released. So re-entry, i.e. finding an affordable place to live in a safe neighborhood, a decent job, and, if applicable, staying clean and sober, never easy in the past, just got that much harder for all of Massachusetts’ former inmates.

Early days, as this scandal unfolded, it was tempting to wonder: “Why should I care? I don’t deal drugs. Neither do my friends. What’s this got to do with me?” When a possible link between a drug lab employee and a Norfolk County prosecutor surfaced, however, this scandal became everyone’s story. Prosecutors are a key part of our criminal justice system. Even the whisper that the Bay State’s system has been co-opted affects us all.

A 2009 Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) study explains why:  “Prosecutorial misconduct is an important issue for us as a society, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the criminal defendants involved in the individual cases. Prosecutorial misconduct fundamentally perverts the course of justice and costs taxpayers millions of dollars in protracted litigation.”

Further, The NCIP report stated: “Those empowered to address the problem—California state and federal courts, prosecutors and the California State Bar—repeatedly fail to take meaningful action. Courts fail to report prosecutorial misconduct (despite having a statuary obligation to do so), prosecutors deny that it occurred, and the California State bar almost never disciplines it.”

In their July 2, 2012 report, “Wrongful Conviction and Prosecutorial Misconduct,” John Floyd and Billy Sinclair concluded: “We strongly suspect these alarming NCIP findings, suggesting the lack of disciplinary action in cases of prosecutorial misconduct, will be similar in the remaining 49 states.” Like Texas. Louisiana. Massachusetts.

Every day, of course, from the Berkshire Superior Court to the Falmouth District Court, honorable prosecutors ably perform their jobs. But this possible link between Annie Dookhan, who allegedly tainted those 60,000 samples and George Papachristos, who has recently resigned, is a flashing red light.

Let’s not ignore it. Let’s contact Attorney General Martha Coakley and David E. Meier, appointed by Governor Patrick to investigate this scandal, and let them know that we demand a thorough and rigorous investigation.

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