In April, the single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court ordered that the dispositions in over 21,000 cases related to state chemist Annie Dookhan's misconduct at the Hinton State Lab be vacated and the underlying charges be dismissed, and that related outstanding warrants be recalled. These cases had been identified through the collaborative efforts of the District Attorneys in seven counties and the Judicial Information Services Department (JISD).
Since then, Trial Court staff in Probation, as well as the District, Boston Municipal, Juvenile Court and Superior Court Departments and JISD have worked hard to clear nearly 37,000 charges involving over 20,000 people. It is the latest chapter of an ongoing issue that has engaged court staff and judges in numerous trial courts, appellate courts, and many prosecutors and defense attorneys in a combined and often collaborative effort to correct the effects of the misconduct for the benefit of the affected defendants and the integrity of our criminal justice system, of which the courts are an integral part.
Some of the court teams involved in this effort include...
Team 1: Massachusetts Probation Service (MPS) Records Unit
In his role as MPS Records Unit Director, Thomas Capasso developed a system for Probation that organized and distributed the Dookhan cases quickly and accurately to the impacted courts.
Probation’s task was to update the CARI (Court Activity Record Information) for each Dookhan-related charge, a complex process which involved extracting individual charges from cases that often contain multiple charges. Once a CARI record is amended, the changes are reflected on a person’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) the next business day.
The District Attorneys’ offices provided MPS with a disk containing a master list of the thousands of cases that needed to be amended. It took two days for CARI Coordinator Supervisor Sandrine Riberio to sort the data by court.
The MPS Records Unit separated the cases by court department, division, and date, and sent out case lists to the divisions with instructions. The team also pitched in to help the courts, answering questions from the field, as well as updating and amending dispositions.
“These things happen every so often with different issues,” says Tom, who credits those in the field at the BMC and District Courts for working “above and beyond” to process the Dookhan cases on top of their regular daily workloads. “We just had to adapt and adjust accordingly to get the work done,” he says, predicting that the Dookhan cases should be completed by all of the courts by the end of June.
Team 2: Lowell District Court
When Lowell District Court Clerk-Magistrate Bill Lisano learned that his court had over 1,100 Dookhan-related cases to amend, he worried how his staff could complete such a large and detail-oriented project in addition to their regular responsibilities. But the court finished the task “in record time,” thanks to Case Specialist Lynn Christman, a 32-year veteran of the Trial Court who volunteered for the task.
It took Lynn about a week-and-a-half to pull, prepare, and correct 1,153 cases, most of which still have other pending charges.
“It was an interesting project – it’s good to work on something different once in a while, but I couldn’t wait to finish,” says Lynn. “To have a project like that in the background and still have to get your daily work done was a lot.”
“I can’t say enough good things about Lynn and all of our courthouse staff,” says Clerk Lisano. “No matter what gets thrown at them, they handle it with no problems or complaints.”
Team 3: Dorchester BMC
Clerk-Magistrate Anthony Owens immediately called an office-wide meeting to explain the court decision, timelines, and internal processes. The office rose to the task, clearing over 3,400 Dookhan related charges while keeping up with each day’s regularly scheduled business.
Office Manager Barbara Sullivan worked with Clerk Owens to develop a system that divided responsibilities and helped the team work through the cases efficiently.
Case Specialists Jared Stern and Robert Sullivan pulled some 2,000 cases out of the archives, and made sure each record was re-filed once it was corrected.
Head Account Clerk Michele Lefebvre assisted with fee waivers, while Case Specialists Emily Santilli and Robert Sullivan served as back-up bookkeepers for Michele.
Assistant Clerk-Magistrates Helen White, John Clough, and Dennis Sullivan were instrumental in docketing the Supreme Judicial Court decision.
“The staff here are just tremendous,” says Clerk Owens, “When we have a job to do, we are all-hands-on-deck. This is a very busy court, but the folks here still found the time to get the job done quickly, and to do it right.”
“The Clerks and Probation exercised great leadership to make it a priority to process these cases,” says Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey, who notes that the Dookhan cases stretch from 2003 to 2011. “It is an extremely complex and important task to make sure that thousands of people’s records are accurate, and that the disposition of the Supreme Judicial Court is executed in a timely manner.”
By the numbers - Dookhan Cases Impact:
Top 5 Courts Handling the Dookhan Cases
By number of charges implicated (and dispositions amended)