Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Former prosecutors face discipline over Massachusetts crime lab scandal

What is believed to be the biggest stain on the Massachusetts criminal justice system continues to reverberate, seven years later, reported WBUR in Boston. After countless court hearings, judicial rulings, investigations and even a Netflix series, one of the state's two drug lab scandals was the focus of weeks of disciplinary hearings for three former prosecutors essentially turned defendants.

The three prosecutors — former assistant attorneys general John VernerKris Foster and Anne Kaczmarek — face a range of possible punishments, up to disbarment, for not properly disclosing evidence in the case against disgraced state chemist Sonja Farak. It's rare for the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (BBO), which was created to hear complaints against attorneys, to hold public disciplinary hearings involving prosecutors.

With the hearings lasting more than eight weeks and legal work continuing, the state confirmed it will cover all lawyers' fees for the three respondents before the BBO.

Of the prosecutors, Kaczmarek was the most directly involved and oversaw the prosecution of Farak. The chemist pleaded guilty in 2014 to tampering with — and personally ingesting — drug samples she tested at the state lab in Amherst. Tens of thousands of criminal cases were eventually dismissed because of her misconduct. Farak served 18 months in prison.

When Farak was arrested in early 2013, then-state Attorney General Martha Coakley said that Farak tampered with drugs at the lab for a few months, indicating only evidence tested during that period might be compromised. But among the documents state police seized in Farak's arrest were "mental health worksheets" — a term Kaczmarek used to describe counseling notes. In those papers, Farak disclosed her drug habits at work dated back years.

"Farak had an addiction so severe that she was getting high at work," Stacey Best, assistant bar counsel, said in her opening statement. "The respondents learned about her addiction and did not properly disclose this information to anyone other than the attorney general's office and state police. To make matters worse, they prevented defense counsel from finding this out for almost two years."

Early on in the case, the AG's office denied defense attorneys' requests for more information about the extent of Farak's drug use, citing the ongoing investigation of Farak. After the chemist's conviction in January of 2014, and after Kaczmarek went to work in the Suffolk County clerk's office, defense attorney Luke Ryan successfully fought to inspect all the AG's evidence. He found the mental health worksheets in the AG's files in late 2014.

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