Court sessions set to deal with drug lab scandal
BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts court administrators have set up the first special court sessions to deal with the legal fallout from the actions of a state chemist charged with faking drug test results in criminal cases.
Defense lawyers have been told that hearings will be held during the weeks of Oct. 15 and Oct. 22 for drug defendants currently serving sentences in Suffolk County cases in which chemist Annie Dookhan tested drug samples. A judge will hear motions to put the sentences on hold and to request bail.
Details of the court sessions were described in an email sent by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state's public defender agency, to defense lawyers. Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the state Trial Court, said Judge Christine McEvoy has been assigned to hear the cases.
Dookhan, 34, of Franklin, was charged Friday with obstruction of justice on allegations that she altered drug tests and skirted testing procedures at a state drug lab. She pleaded not guilty. Her alleged mishandling of drug samples prompted the shutdown of the lab in August and led to the resignation of the state's public health commissioner.
Since the lab closed, about 20 drug defendants have been released while their attorneys challenge the charges against them based on Dookhan's conduct.
State police, who took over operation of the lab from the Department of Public Health on July 1, have said Dookhan tested more than 60,000 samples covering 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab.
State officials said last week that they have identified 1,141 defendants who are currently serving time in county jails or state prisons based on samples tested by Dookhan. It is unclear how many of those samples were tainted by Dookhan's alleged actions.
Gov. Deval Patrick has said dealing with the cases of people already incarcerated is the state's top priority. After that, officials want to hear the cases of people who have already served their sentences and people currently awaiting trial.
Robert Mulligan, chief justice for administration and management of the state's trial court, said each county will have special designated court sessions to handle the large volume of cases expected to be challenged because of Dookhan's alleged actions.
In the email sent to defense attorneys, the public defender agency said the special sessions for Suffolk County cases will be held to hear requests for bail and requests to put sentences on hold. The email said each correctional facility will have a day when defendants in that facility will have their hearings, via video monitor.
"The case schedule is being established now in an orderly and coordinated manner," Kenney said.
Defense attorney Bernard Grossberg, who already has had one client's prison sentence put on hold because of Dookhan's handling of drug samples, said he believes judges who sit in the special sessions need little information except that Dookhan was involved in the testing.
"My feeling is as soon as they call the case, if Dookhan's name is on the (drug) certificate, nothing further needs to be asked and the sentence should be (put on hold) immediately," Grossberg said. "Later on, you can figure out motions to withdraw guilty pleas or upset convictions."
Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley, said his office is assembling a task force and support staff to work on the cases to be heard during the special court sessions.
"It's a promising plan and we look forward to its implementation," Wark said.
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