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Estimate of drug lab scandal costs overblown, Patrick says

Governor Deval Patrick said this morning that the state public defender agency’s $332 million estimate of the drug lab scandal’s added costs is overblown.

Patrick said the agency’s estimate is based on the cost of having to retry everyone convicted on drug evidence tested by the state’s tainted lab over the past nine or 10 years — or about 190,000 cases.

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“That’s not the universe of cases,” Patrick said, putting the number closer to 34,000. “There’s no evidence to suggest that that’s going to be required.”

The Committee for Public Counsel Service’s projection, reported in today’s Globe, is detailed in a budget request directed to the Patrick administration, to handle the effects of the drug scandal linked to chemist Annie Dookhan, who, according to State Police, has said she falsified drug test results.

Patrick, on his monthly radio show on WTKK-FM, asserted that the agency’s requests have continually been exaggerated.

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“I will say they have come down from the half a billion dollars they were asking for,” he said with a chuckle.

Patrick also discussed the controversy over Sheila Burgess, the former state highway safety director who resigned last week after the Globe revealed she had an extensive history of unsafe driving and no background in transportation safety.

Patrick said the affair had made his administration look “ridiculous.”

When asked if he would try to find out how she was hired so those involved would face consequences, Patrick said that the paper trail of her hiring was destroyed as part of a routine destruction of state records. He acknowledged that she had been referred to the administration by US Representative James McGovern, and said the state would nonetheless make an effort to find out how she was hired.

Patrick also reiterated his position on changing the state’s succession law in the event Senator John Kerry is appointed to a cabinet position in the Obama administration. Current law, changed by Democrats in the Legislature to prevent former Governor Mitt Romney from appointing a Republican, requires an election in the event of a vacancy after an appointee serves for a brief period.

Patrick said he would prefer to appoint a replacement who could fulfill the remainder of the term. But he said he would not campaign for such a change and did not believe the Legislature has the appetite to reverse its prior position. But he said he would sign such a law if it comes to his desk.

The Governor also acknowledged that he has had discussions with the White House about taking a position in the Obama administration, but has made clear to staffers that he would like to fulfill his second term, which ends in January 2015.

Patrick and his wife, Diane, had dinner at the White House earlier this month. He said the meal began at 6 p.m. and that he and his wife were getting tired at midnight. But when he suggested to the president that he, too, must have been getting tired, Obama said the evening was just getting started.

Patrick said his wife shot him a knowing glance that said she was ready to turn in. Obama finally concluded the dinner at about 12:30 a.m.

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