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Former treasurer in court on ethics

BOSTON - Former Massachusetts treasurer Timothy P. Cahill did nothing wrong when he aired taxpayer-funded ads for the state lottery while he was running for governor, his new lawyer said Wednesday.

Cahill is charged with violating state ethics laws and procurement fraud in airing the lottery ads to promote his unsuccessful independent campaign for governor in 2010. The treasurer oversees the lottery.

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The indictments were the first issued by the attorney general’s office under a new state ethics law that went into effect in 2009. Before that, an allegation of conflict of interest would have been a civil matter, not a criminal case.

Cahill maintains that the lottery ads were developed in response to ads run by the Republican Governors Association that criticized management of the lottery. He said senior managers at the lottery and treasury advised him to run ads to counter the Republican attacks.

State Attorney General Martha Coakley, however, alleges that the ads were framed after a series of focus groups designed to identify a message that would resonate with voters in the governor’s race. The research found that the treasurer’s leadership of the lottery would be “the major selling point for him as a candidate for governor,’’ Coakley said.

Jeffrey Denner, a high-profile Boston lawyer recently hired by Cahill, said Cahill had not done “anything that is remotely wrong.’’

“This is one of those situations where a decent man who has dedicated his life to public service is thrown into the spotlight for what we see as vague and difficult to even define charges,’’ Denner said before Cahill made a brief appearance Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court.

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A spokeswoman for Coakley declined to comment on Denner’s remarks.

A pretrial conference scheduled for Wednesday was postponed to May 31 after Denner said he needed more time,

Cahill and two top former top aides have pleaded not guilty.

Cahill served two terms as treasurer as a Democrat before running for governor as an independent. He finished a distant third behind Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and Republican Charles D. Baker.

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