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The Boston Globe

Politics

Brian McGrory

Coakley, Cahill need to save face after mistrial

Martha and Tim, you need to get together — now. You need to sit across from each other at a conference table, a lunch table, a kitchen table, a blackjack table, doesn’t matter, and make this whole miserable case go away.

Amazingly, after a 17-month investigation, after a laborious 26-day trial involving 170 exhibits and testimony from 24 witnesses, Martha Coakley and Tim Cahill finish in a perfect position to help each other out.

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Here’s what must happen, for their sake, and for the public’s sake: The attorney general and the former state treasurer need to reach some sort of agreement to this semi-absurd criminal case, one that will allow them to both save a little bit of face.

To not reach an agreement means that the public will again be subject to a heavy dose of the self-described flunkies and half-wits who populate our state government and the world of Beacon Hill politics. Please, I’m begging, it’s not fair to do that again.

The common perception is that this is now all or nothing, that Coakley will either forge toward a new trial or drop all charges as if a hung jury is, as Cahill ridiculously asserted this week, “total vindication.” But there is a third way, middle ground, and that’s where this has to go.

They need to reach a settlement, preferably a civil agreement, one that will require Cahill to accept some responsibility for blowing through $1.5 million in public funds on self-serving ads for the state lottery he oversaw amid his stunningly sophomoric 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

Tim Cahill isn’t an evil guy. He seems like a good husband and father. But he was so far over his head overseeing complex entities like the lottery and state pension fund that he probably suffers a lifelong case of the bends. He should have been satisfied as a Quincy city councilor, amazed at becoming the Norfolk County treasurer, and forever blessed by somehow managing the unimaginable feat of winning election as state treasurer. But he seriously, incredibly believed he had what it took to be governor, no novel plans or a compelling personal story required.

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That said, if self-obsession was a criminal offense, the Legislature would be voting from the rec room of Cedar Junction. The question remains, is Cahill just smart enough to realize he has to give a little bit to make this case go away?

As for Coakley, she’s taken criticism for devoting these kinds of resources to a case that has caused many people to simply roll their eyes.

Coakley is a widely lauded attorney general, a fair and reasonable person, whose soft spot has been the lack of public corruption cases notched on her belt. This case, her allies argue, never offered her a choice. There was a new ethics law, a hand-delivered complaint, and the likelihood of accusations of favoritism if she didn’t pursue charges against a fellow constitutional officer. The question remains, can she accept a mild hit by ditching the criminal charges for a civil outcome?

There is reason to hope. Publicly, Coakley has said, “We are considering our options.” Privately, there are sounds from her camp that they believe they accomplished a public good by pushing this case to trial and don’t necessarily feel they need to spend more public dollars to do it again.

Likewise, one of Cahill’s lawyers, the estimable Jeffrey Denner, scoffed not at all when I asked him Thursday about settling this case, though he stressed he hadn’t talked to his client. He went out of his way to commend Coakley as “dedicated” and a person of integrity.

“I have always felt that there are issues here that should be aired out, and the ethics commission on the civil side is as good a vehicle to use when there are gray areas,” Denner said.

Please, get it done. It would be nice to know there will be no rerun to this perfectly depressing show.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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