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O’Flaherty says he will quit a key role

Lawmaker cites criticism in a recent Globe column

State Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty said Wednesday that he would resign as cochairman of the Judiciary Committee at the end of the legislative session, citing a Globe column that criticized him for stifling a proposal to eliminate the statute of limitations on prosecuting child sexual abuse crimes.

O’Flaherty, who has long represented Chelsea, said in an e-mail to columnist Kevin Cullen that Cullen’s column on Tuesday “has resonated with me since I first read it.’’

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The legislator said he took issue with being depicted as someone “unconcerned about the murder of children’s souls,’’ a reference to one of Cullen’s lines.

“To be Googled and to have such a depiction of me is very unfortunate, but thankfully my family and constituents know me to be someone that cares deeply about children and their safety,’’ he wrote. “I hope in the future you take the time to realize how indeed the pen is more powerful than the sword and how hurtful it can be to individuals and their families.’’

O’Flaherty, 43, said in the e-mail to Cullen that he would resign the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee “after I complete the important work assigned to me this session.’’ The session officially ends Dec. 31.

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He added, “I stand by my comments that such journalism, acidic discourse, and public humiliation being brought into the public square is why our democracy on all levels is increasingly becoming dysfunctional.’’ O’Flaherty’s chairmanship pays an additional $7,500 beyond a legislator’s base salary of $61,133.

Typically, a House speaker can reshuffle committee assignments at the end of a legislative session. O’Flaherty has been appointed to the post consecutively since 2002 by three House speakers.

He has been involved in such high-profile debates as the toughening of laws for repeat drunk drivers, and the establishment of human trafficking as a crime.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said the speaker would not comment.

O’Flaherty, a lawyer, said in a letter to colleagues Tuesday that he has endured criticism during his tenure, but that “in doing this over the years, the toll is personally and politically more difficult now than ever.’’

Cullen’s column Tuesday had chronicled the struggles of victims of child abuse and their efforts to eliminate the statute of limitations, which, Cullen said, had allowed predators to escape prosecution and accountability by hiding behind the calendar.

Supporters of the statute of limitations, which in criminal cases can stretch up to 27 years after a victim turns 16 and to three years in civil cases, argue that they protect the wrongfully accused from baseless prosecutions and foggy memories.

O’Flaherty told Cullen last week that he would not support the measure and did not expect it to be released from his committee because of a backlog of committee work. He also said that he supported the concept of statutes of limitations in the judicial system and that his decision to oppose the bill would not be affected by public opinion.

Cullen wrote that O’Flaherty was not part of a “growing consensus that there should be no arbitrary hiding place for those who murder children’s souls by sexually abusing them.’’

The Judiciary Committee has since sent the bill to the House for a full vote. O’Flaherty said through an aide that a poll of committee members had showed overall support for the bill and that he reluctantly agreed to let it progress without his approval by the time the column ran.

Victim advocates supported the bill’s advancement.

O’Flaherty still does not support the measure as drafted, however, and in a letter to colleagues he cautioned against basing any vote for the measure on public opinion. He also took issue with what he called attacks on, and criticism of, any legislators who oppose a proposal.

O’Flaherty was first elected in 1997. He also serves on the Joint Committee on Rules and the House Committee on Rules.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.
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