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November 2, 2012

Governor seeks $30M for crime lab work

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick has filed a $30 million budget request with the Legislature to cover costs for “the next few months” related to the evidence tainting debacle at a state drug lab, and Patrick has agreed to appoint an independent investigator to conduct a broader probe of the lab.

Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez said Wednesday that the spending request would be filed with the House on Thursday. He’ll seek $30 million to be deposited into a special fund under the control of his office.

The request underscores the magnitude of the evidence tainting problems, which are forcing public officials and defense attorneys to revisit and reopen thousands of criminal cases to determine whether justice was served.

Essex County District Attorneys officials alone are looking into more than 8,000 samples in attempting to determine how many county cases may be involved. Gloucester police officials are also awaiting word on whether any — or, more realistically, how many — tainted samples and cases may be tied to their cases through Gloucester District Court.

The administration plans to dispense the funds to state agencies impacted by investigations or ongoing legal proceedings based on requests filed monthly, Gonzalez said, and the request will propose to pay for the expense with future one-time tax and legal settlements. The administration earlier in the day announced a $116 million surplus from fiscal 2012 that it plans to deposit in the state’s “rainy day” fund.

Patrick also said Wednesday he would “waste no time” naming an independent investigator to review operations at the Hinton Laboratory after Attorney General Martha Coakley, facing pressure from legal groups to step aside because of potential conflicts of interest, asked the governor to replace her.

“The Attorney General was well suited to lead this impartial review of the lab’s overall operations but we understand and accept her decision. Combined with David Meier’s work to identify cases handled by Annie Dookhan and the ongoing criminal investigation, this broader review is critical to assessing the integrity of the entire lab and ensuring the criminal justice system meets its obligations to fairness. We will waste no time identifying a new person to take up this important responsibility,” Patrick press secretary Kim Haberlin said in a statement.

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