From Wire and Staff Reports
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — 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.
Gonzalez said the $30 million should cover state expenses “through the next few months” after which the administration will have a “better understanding of the extent to which any further funding requests might be needed.” Democratic House and Senate leaders have been briefed on their plans, Gonzalez said.
“We need to be prepared for the possibility that we do need more, and based on worst case scenarios we may need a lot more,” Gonzalez said.
House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey told the News Service that lawmakers would make a decision in the next week or two whether it is feasible to put forward a budget bill during informal sessions, when any lawmaker can block its passage. Formal legislative sessions are scheduled to resume in January.
“We’re going to look at it. It’s always a challenge in informal sessions to bring something of this magnitude up because it’s a supp and there’s always a request for additional items. We’ll look at it to see if it’s doable and makes sense and that’s a conversation we’ll have with the speaker,” Dempsey said.
The administration requested that state agencies file estimates of their expenses related to the drug lab by last week, but Gonzalez said it is premature to have a full understanding of the number of cases and increased workload that will fall to agencies such as the Committee for Public Counsel Services, district attorneys, probation and the courts.
The courts alone requested $8.7 million, including $2.96 million this fiscal year and $5.8 million in fiscal 2014 to handle cases stemming from breaches of protocol at the Hinton Drug Lab. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has asked the state for $15 million to pay for increased police patrols and released-inmate supervision.