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Politics

Political Intelligence

As Cahill’s trial nears climax, Coakley faces questions

Attorney General Martha Coakley used several elements of the new ethics law for the first time, against Timothy P. Cahill.

Left: Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe; Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

Attorney General Martha Coakley used several elements of the new ethics law for the first time, against Timothy P. Cahill.

On July 1, 2009, as part of a deal in which he agreed to a legislative plan for a 25 percent increase in the state sales tax rate, Governor Deval Patrick signed a new ethics law he had urged the House and Senate to pass.

Among those standing behind him on the Grand Staircase at the State House were Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

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Both were anxious to move beyond the stain of recent public corruption cases, most notably those involving former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and former Senator Dianne Wilkerson.

Also on the steps for the signing ceremony was Attorney General Martha Coakley, the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

Less than three years later, Coakley would apply several elements of the law for the first time, when her staff secured the indictment of former state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill.

He was charged with procurement fraud and conspiracy to secure an unwarranted advantage by using $1.8 million in Massachusetts Lottery funds on television commercials allegedly aimed at boosting his flagging gubernatorial campaign, instead of ticket sales.

Misappropriation of public funds was upgraded from a civil to a criminal offense by the new ethics law.

The context is part of the complex backdrop to Cahill’s trial, now nearing its climax in Suffolk Superior Court. After deliberating for 24 hours since Tuesday, the jury went home for the weekend without reaching a verdict.

It will reconvene Monday, but the members’ protracted deliberations have fueled questions about whether Coakley was right to bring the case in the first place.

History helps explain her decision.

First, DiMasi became the third speaker in a row to be indicted, when he was accused (and ultimately convicted) of receiving kickbacks for a state software contract. Wilkerson, meanwhile, was photographed stuffing a bribe into her bra while seated in the middle of a restaurant across the street from the State House.

That propelled the Legislature to pass the new ethics bill, which the governor signed into law.

Then, amid the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Cahill became entangled in a bizarre series of events.

In late September, Cahill’s top political strategists, John Weaver and John Yob, quit the campaign. Weaver told reporters that the treasurer — running as an independent candidate — could not win, and he did not want to be party to a kamikaze run that would help reelect Patrick, the Democratic incumbent.

A day later, a Weaver associate, Adam Meldrum, quit as the campaign manager, and a week after that, Cahill’s running mate, Paul Loscocco, not only quit but endorsed the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Charles D. Baker Jr.

Six days later, Cahill brought the campaign to the courtroom, filing a lawsuit in which he alleged that Weaver, Yob, Meldrum, and others conspired against him to benefit Baker. He produced a series of e-mails that Meldrum had unknowingly forwarded from his personal e-mail account to his campaign account that Cahill said buttressed his case.

Yet in response, Meldrum made his own allegation: He said Cahill’s lawsuit was an effort to muzzle a whistleblower complaint he intended to file about the Lottery ads. He produced his own e-mails to buttress his counter-claim that Cahill was misappropriating public monies for campaign purposes.

The Massachusetts Republican Party seized on the dispute to demand that Coakley investigate. She interceded by urging Cahill and the lottery to stop the ads in question while she tried to sort out the allegations.

This past April, after a lengthy investigation and, as would normally be the case, plea bargain discussions between Coakley and Cahill, prosecutors secured an indictment from a grand jury.

Today, as Coakley faces questions from skeptics whose ranks include former Governor William F. Weld, history shows:

Cahill was accused of violating laws made a crime by a Legislature eager to clean up its own image.

Some of the evidence against him — damning e-mails — came from a lawsuit Cahill himself initiated.

The state Republican Party demanded that the Democratic attorney general investigate.

A grand jury heard evidence from prosecutors and handed up an indictment.

Now, a trial jury — drawn from a cross-section of the general public — will render a verdict on whether Cahill committed a crime, or simply engaged in politics as usual.

Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence, available online at www.boston.com/politics. He can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
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