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Boston might have to pay Dennis White to go away. And maybe he doesn’t want to

The case against Dennis White remaining as Boston police commissioner has been made largely in the court of public opinion. Now that it has moved into a court of law, he may have more going for him than his critics would like to admit.

Commissioner Dennis WhiteSuffolk Superior Court

The fight over whether Dennis White remains Boston’s police commissioner has so far played out as a political battle, but on Thursday it moved to a courtroom, where he may have more going for him than his critics want to believe.

After listening to lawyers from both sides, Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger took the matter under advisement, which is probably better news for White than for those, including Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who want him gone, pronto.

As much as Janey and many others think it’s impossible for White to serve as commissioner following the public airing of allegations that he engaged in domestic abuse against a 19-year-old woman and his former wife in two separate occasions in 1993 and 1998, White has due process rights that neither Judge Brieger nor Janey can simply overlook.


A review of 44 pages of pleadings filed by White’s lawyer, Nick Carter, prior to Thursday’s hearing raises the possibility that as much as Janey and others want to fire White, he may have the legal right to stay in the job. And if the city wants him gone, they may have to pay him to go away.

Either of those scenarios is a political and public relations nightmare for Janey, especially as she is running for mayor.

While the last few months of disclosures in the Globe and by an investigator hired by the city have painted White as a hotheaded bully and wife beater, Carter insists everything said against White amounts to hearsay and is unproven, inadmissible evidence.

Essentially, Carter is arguing that what looks bad in the newspaper or a city-funded report would never be accepted in a legal proceeding, and he’s banking on Dennis White’s case being tried in a court of law not the court of public opinion.


In a Feb. 25 letter to then-Corporation Counsel Eugene O’Flaherty, Carter maintained that the city “deactivated him as Commissioner based on nothing other than a decades old, unsubstantiated allegation of domestic violence made by his then estranged wife.”

Carter said the couple’s oldest daughter, “who was a teenager at the time and the best witness to their family dynamic, has stated publicly that the allegation is untrue, and that Commissioner White never used or threatened violence in the home.” Carter said the daughter maintains her mother was the aggressor in the relationship.

While the city’s hired investigator, Tamsin Kaplan, provided unsworn statements from unidentified witnesses, in some cases corroborating Internal Affairs Division reports about the allegations against White, Carter’s argument is essentially the same one that department leaders presumably accepted while promoting White five times in the 22 years after the allegations of domestic abuse first surfaced: “False allegations are common in divorce proceedings to spite the partner or to extract a financial advantage,” Carter wrote.

How else to explain White’s career rise when the allegations made by his former wife were part of his Internal Affairs Division file? White’s superiors either unaccountably ignored the allegations or considered them an unproven byproduct of a messy divorce.

That doesn’t mean they were right to do so, but it does mean White has a point when he argues he can’t be fired for unproven allegations that occurred before he became commissioner.

“There is no precedent for subjecting a Commissioner to an investigation after he has been appointed,” Carter wrote in his filings.


Whether Judge Brieger buys that argument is another matter. She is not subject to political calculations.

Other calculations, such as possible compensation for White, will be a different political problem, for Janey and whoever else might become mayor, as this isn’t going away anytime soon.

In the pleadings, Carter makes a claim that resonates with so many other people of color in law enforcement who are publicly backing Dennis White.

“A senior white male officer of Commissioner White’s standing and service,” Carter wrote, “would never be treated with such a complete lack of respect.”

Directed at the city’s first Black mayor, acting or otherwise, those words sting.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at