Drug Lab Crisis Panel Members Detail Steps Forward and Frustrations

Monday, December 03, 2012

By Georgia Critsley

Members of the criminal justice community gathered in a packed room on November 27 for a panel discussion of “Crisis in the JP Drug Lab: Implications for the Criminal Justice System.”  The panel, moderated by BBA Council member and Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Christina Miller, included Major James Connolly of the Massachusetts State Police, Attorney Anne Goldbach, of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Attorney David Meier of Todd & Weld, Assistant District Attorney Paul Treseler of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office (SCDAO), Attorney Victoria Kelleher of the Law Offices of Victoria Kelleher, and Nancy Wong Brooks of the Massachusetts State Police Forensic Chemistry Section.

See the entire photo album here.

ADA Treseler first recounted the steps taken by the SCDAO upon discovery of the tampered drug analyses and the formation of the special narcotics unit to handle the affected cases.  Treseler also described the regular meetings held with members of the defense bar to further identify and prioritize cases.  Attorney Goldbach relayed the frustrations of the defense bar who were initially informed the number of “Dookhan cases” were limited to ninety in a single county.  She also predicted the “multiple layers” of defendants negatively impacted by the drug lab crisis would result in these cases being brought forward and fought for years, for example, defendants who have been incarcerated, individuals detained by the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and parents who have lost custody of their children.

Attorney Kelleher also expressed frustration at the initial lack of available information about the crisis.  She relayed that she became involved in the drug lab crisis when a Boston Herald reporter informed her that Annie Dookhan had been indicted for obstruction of justice for tampering with drugs in her former client’s case.  In that case, in spite of protestations over the genuineness of the drugs in question, Attorney Kelleher’s client was convicted and incarcerated.  The drug lab investigation revealed that chemist Annie Dookhan had tampered with the drugs to achieve a positive analysis.

Major Connolly detailed the Massachusetts State Police drug lab accreditation and the plans to expand the present lab staffing with eight chemists which would bring the lab to capacity.  He further detailed plans to expand the lab itself in order to handle the backlog and additional testing resulting from this crisis.  Forensic Chemistry Section Manager Nancy Wong Brooks described, in detail, the lab’s procedures in handling evidence and the chain of custody procedures. 

Attorney Meier, appointed by the Governor to identify cases affected by the drug crisis, told the audience the first priority following his appointment was to identify those cases in which defendants were in custody on “Dookhan cases.”  He also relayed the Department of Public Health (DPH) list was generated based on the information available to the DPH at the time and was only a beginning to identifying all impacted defendants.  He advised an exhaustive list would require reviewing each DPH case file for which the Governor had promised resources.  Attorney Goldbach added CPCS attorneys were searching through their own case files of all DPH drug lab related cases and additional individuals not on the original list had been identified.