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OPINION

AG Maura Healey has a zeal for taking on Trump but not state troopers

Did the AG drop the ball and let the state’s top cops off the criminal hook?

When it comes to taking on Trump, Maura Healey is fearless. But when it comes to taking on powerful interests in Massachusetts — the perception is, not so much.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

So far, it has been a typical work week for Attorney General Maura Healey. Once again, she sued the Trump administration — this time over a plan to bar international students from studying in the United States if all their classes were taught online.

The effort, joined by AGs from 16 other states, got swift results. Facing fierce opposition, including a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and MIT, the Department of Homeland Security dropped the proposal.

When it comes to taking on President Trump, Healey is fearless and prolific. But when it comes to taking on powerful interests in Massachusetts — the perception is, not so much. When I wrote earlier this week about 15 state troopers who kept their jobs and probably their pensions despite participation in an overtime fraud scheme that bilked the state of thousands, I suggested Governor Charlie Baker is afraid to take on the State Police. Readers generally agreed, but also asked: What about Healey?

Did the AG drop the ball and let the state’s top cops off the criminal hook? During a telephone interview, she called that “a misperception and mischaracterization,” not to mention “ridiculous.” Her office, she said, “decided to go hard” on the troopers — and she insists they did.

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Not by the numbers. She indicted three lieutenants. Two resolved their cases by pleading guilty and were sentenced to probation. A third case is pending in Suffolk Superior Court. But Healey said she stands by her decision to go after higher-ranking officers with supervisory authority — not “low hanging fruit,” as she called several dozen troopers who were targeted by US Attorney Andrew Lelling.

Her office also investigated the destruction of State Police records that might have implicated more troopers but decided what was uncovered did not support criminal charges.

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What about “Troopergate”? That messy scandal from 2017 involved a judge’s daughter who let her family connection be known when she was arrested and charged with operating under the influence. In the aftermath, the then-head of the State Police and other law enforcement officials, including Worcester Country District Attorney Joseph Early, worked to change the initial police report by removing embarrassing comments made by the judge’s daughter. Healey investigated but brought no criminal charges. Instead, she booted the matter to the state Ethics Commission, which recently completed an investigation alleging that Early and others violated state ethics laws when they used their positions to revise the arrest report. If wrongdoing is ultimately determined, the accused would be subject only to civil penalties and fines. Healey said she had no regrets about that either; there was nothing to prosecute.

Is she afraid to offend her State Police security detail and the 25 investigators assigned to her office? She said no: “We take on corruption and bad conduct whenever we see it.” As an example, she noted the recent indictment of a former Uxbridge town accountant for allegedly stealing $729,000 from several local municipalities. Note, however, the accused is not a state trooper.

Trump-related suits launch the biggest headlines. But Healey is also investigating the circumstances surrounding the 76 deaths connected to COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. While the silence has been thunderous to date, she said her investigation is extensive and “moving as quickly as possible.”

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This week, Healey also announced she’s suing Uber and Lyft, claiming they are wrongly classifying drivers as independent contractors in order to deny them employee benefits. It’s a legitimate effort to enforce state labor law. But whatever good work Healey is doing on that front is drowned out by the drumbeat of her suits against Trump.

Healey is often mentioned as a potential candidate for governor or US Senate. But given her resume, she could also be positioning herself for a top spot in the Department of Justice under a Democratic president. During a speech she gave via Zoom to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce after the police killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Healey said, “Yes, America is burning. But that’s how forests grow. " While blasted by conservatives, her words stoked the image of a woke woman with a passion for racial justice to go along with her passion for taking on a Republican administration.

But if perception is reality — and it is — the perception is that she has a lot more zeal for taking on Trump than she does for taking on troopers.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.