By Paul Tennant
---- — BOSTON — A Merrimack Valley lawmaker is so outraged at a ruling requiring the state to pay the lawyers’ fees of a convicted murderer who wants a sex change that he plans to file a bill that would give all Massachusetts residents the same legal benefits.
State Rep. James Lyons, R-Andover, said he will introduce the measure after Wednesday, when the new Legislature takes office. He’s being joined in this effort by Rep. Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica.
Michelle Kosilek, 63, was convicted of killing Cheryl Kosilek by strangling her. In 1990, when the murder happened in Mansfield, Michelle Kosilek was named Robert Kosilek.
Robert Kosilek changed her name to Michelle Kosilek in 1993, claiming she suffered from a gender identity disorder. She also sued the state Department of Correction, demanding that the agency pay for a sex change operation.
U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf upheld her demand in September and ordered the state to provide the operation. The judge also ordered the state to pay Kosilek’s legal expenses, which Lombardo estimated exceed $700,000.
The state has appealed Wolf’s ruling to the federal Court of Appeals. Kosilek, an inmate at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Norfolk, has not yet undergone the sex change operation, according to Diane Wiffin, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction.
“We don’t comment on pending litigation,” she said.
Attorney Frances Cohen, who represents Kosilek, could not be reached for comment.
Lyons said that, if the state is going to be forced to pay a convicted murderer’s legal fees resulting from a demand for a sex change, then the Legislature should consider extending that privilege to every Massachusetts resident.
Asked if he thinks the bill has any chance of passing, Lyons did not give a direct yes-or-no answer, saying, “We’re trying to make a profound point. ... This misuse of taxpayers’ money has to stop.”
He said he, Lombardo and other legislators want to “keep the issue alive.”
“If innocent taxpayers are forced to fund the unlimited expenses of wife murderers — even when those bills are unrelated to a trial ascertaining criminal guilt or innocence – then shouldn’t those law-abiding citizens have access to the same benefits?” asked Lyons. “It’s the height of absurdity to mandate that taxpayers have an obligation to pay the massive bills of vicious murderers, but those same law-abiding citizens have no right to equal legal benefits.”
“This is an issue of fundamental fairness,” Lyons emphasized. “The hard working citizens who follow the rules and pay their taxes do not qualify for benefits like this. If we provide extravagant benefits like this to a vicious murderer, then why deny them to the law abiding citizenry? It’s a simple matter of fairness and justice.”
“It seems that every day that passes with this case, a new absurd ruling is made that costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Lombardo said. “I’m outraged that any taxpayer dollars are being spent on heinous convicted murderers, never mind that those dollars are being used to pay legal fees for efforts to have a taxpayer-funded sex change. The taxpayers continue to get a raw deal with this case. We need some reassignment of priorities in our state government.”
Lyons and Lombardo were both elected to their first terms in 2010, then re-elected Nov. 6.