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Editorial

Dougan’s free legal services a conflict of interest

Judge Raymond Dougan in 2011.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Judge Raymond Dougan in 2011.

Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond Dougan has been accused of bias against police and in favor of the defense in a formal complaint to the Commission on Judicial Conduct, so it’s not entirely surprising that a major Boston law firm, Foley Hoag, would take up his case, free of charge. But Dougan’s acceptance of attorney Michael Keating’s services, which are worth at least $85,000, appears to violate the state ban on judges receiving gifts from law firms whose members are likely to appear before them.

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which dismissed the initial complaint of anti-police bias, should now investigate Dougan’s acceptance of the free legal services. And even if the commission finds that Dougan did not violate ethical standards, he should make it clear that he will never agree to oversee a case involving Keating or Foley Hoag.

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The integrity of the judicial system requires a judge to eschew gifts, loans, and favors from attorneys and their firms if they are likely to appear before the judge. Keating, a high-powered corporate attorney, can easily avoid future contact with Dougan. But members of Keating’s firm do appear in Boston Municipal Court and other district courts. And now those appearances could raises questions of preferential treatment by Dougan in cases handled by Foley Hoag lawyers.

Dougan’s supporters contend that the money was spent in defense of a principle — judicial independence — and not on the judge himself. But it was Dougan who faced possible censure, fines, or even dismissal from the bench based on the complaint brought by Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley.

The potential conflict of interest should also be probed by the state Ethics Commission, which seeks to separate the private interests and public duties of state employees. Dougan should be required to pay the legal bill if he violated state conflict-of-interest laws. Meanwhile, the Commission on Judicial Conduct is specifically authorized to initiate an investigation solely on news media reports of potential wrongdoing. It needn’t wait for a formal complaint, which makes sense considering the reluctance of many in the legal community to call judges to account for their actions.

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