Drug Lab special counsel moves on to file-by-file review

By 
Matt Murphy, State House News Service
Nov. 27, 2012

Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday authorized a file-by-file review of cases processed by the Hinton state drug laboratory over the past nine years to make sure no individuals have been overlooked by the state’s probe of those impacted by an indicted chemist’s alleged mishandling of evidence.

“That may take some time,” said David Meier, the attorney appointed by Patrick to lead a new office tasked with linking the 60,000 samples touched by former chemist Annie Dookhan over her career with specific cases.

Meier, meeting with reporters in a makeshift “central office” where he has been working for the past two months, said he and his team met with Patrick Tuesday morning to discuss winding down the first phase of his work and moving to a case-by-case analysis of the lab files.

Meier is scheduled to join senior State Police, Patrick administration officials and district attorneys Wednesday to testify before three legislative committees conducting oversight hearings. He plans to file a letter with the governor later Tuesday summarizing his work to date.

Meier said his team has identified close to 10,000 individuals so far whose cases may have been impacted by the alleged conduct of Dookhan, who has admitted, according to police reports, to altering some drug samples while testing at the lab.

About 2,000 individuals have been identified since Meier started his work in September who were either incarcerated in a state prison, county jail or house of correction on drug charges, or being held on bail awaiting trial in state or federal court. Those presently in custody were deemed the top priority by the administration.

More than 7,000 more people whose cases were handled by Dookhan are on parole, probation or were previously convicted in Superior Court or found delinquent in Juvenile Court, according to Meier. Previous convictions of individuals who have already served their sentences accounted for roughly 3,000 of those cases.

Meier said a remaining focus of his work is to identify those not currently involved with the justice system, and should include those previously convicted in district or Boston Municipal Court. At the outset of the review, public health officials identified a preliminary list of about 34,000 cases worked on by Dookhan during her career.

The central office has also been able to identify some individuals convicted on multiple charges, including at least one drug offense, and is still working with the court system to gather additional information on these people.

The file-by-file review will attempt to find any individuals who might have been missed in that initial scrape of the lab’s documents that showed Dookhan to have worked on roughly 34,000 cases between 2003 and 2012, all of which could be compromised by her conduct.

“The system is working and to the extent that there have been alleged wrongs committed, prosecutors and defense attorneys have been working to bring those before a judge,” Meier said.

About 400 cases have already been brought before judges in Suffolk County alone, said Meier. He did not have an estimate of how many of those individuals were released following their court proceedings.

Meier is slated to testify Wednesday at an oversight hearing before the House committees on public health, public safety and post audit and oversight. Meier said anticipating the cost to the state of processing all these cases handled by Dookhan between 2003 and 2012 was beyond his purview.

Patrick has filed a request with the Legislature for $30 million to cover some of the initial costs, but those are expected to grow and the governor’s finance advisors say the funding request may only cover the next few months.

The governor filed the bill on Nov. 1, but the House and Senate have yet to act and leaders say they are discussing whether it will be possible to accomplish during informal sessions scheduled to run until January.

Meier said he hopes to complete the second phases of his work within the next three to four months, but said the timeframe would depend, in part, on what investigators find.

“We’re going to have to go through most if not all of the files at the lab,” Meier said.

The attorney general is conducting a separate criminal investigation, and the inspector general is conducting a review of the lab’s operations.