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Rollins’s ‘extraordinary abuse’ of power is ripe for Mass. bar investigation, experts say

United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins is seen during a press conference in February.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

US Attorney Rachael Rollins appears unlikely to face federal prosecution for her “extraordinary abuse” of power, even though investigators determined she lied under oath and violated a federal ethics law multiple times, two government watchdog agencies disclosed in scathing reports this week.

But she could still face great legal exposure before the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, according to experts and legal analysts, who say the state regulators have wide leeway to investigate and bring sanctions, up to revoking her law license.

“I think she needs to lawyer up and get some good advice from a legal ethics lawyer,” said Kathleen Clark, a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis and a government ethics expert. “Because I think she faces the possibility of professional discipline.”


Two government investigations this week found that Rollins repeatedly committed ethical breaches and misused her office in her 16 months as US attorney. The Department of Justice’s Inspector General also said that Rollins lied under oath to its investigators — and referred her to federal prosecutors — but were told that the Department of Justice declined to bring charges.

In another probe, the Office of Special Counsel said it submitted its findings that Rollins violated the federal ethics law known as the Hatch Act to President Biden, but the White House has not yet commented. Under the Hatch Act, discipline can be meted out by suspending, firing, or barring an employee from federal employment for five years, among other actions. Rollins could also face a civil penalty up to $1,000.

But even Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner recognized that the question of punishment under the Hatch Act may be moot given that Rollins plans to resign by the end of business on Friday, which, he wrote, “would foreclose the possibility of any disciplinary action.”


Rollins engaged in what investigators described as a pattern of unethical behavior, from attempting to influence the 2022 election for her successor as Suffolk district attorney to soliciting 30 Boston Celtics tickets for youth basketball players — as well as two for herself.

The two investigations were launched in July 2022 to determine whether Rollins violated the Hatch Act after she attended a fund-raiser in Andover with Jill Biden. The Hatch Act bars government employees from engaging in partisan political activity “while on duty, in a federal facility, or using federal property” and sets limits on fund-raising and other activities.

Investigators determined that Rollins mingled with Democratic donors and took a photo with Biden, even when she was told not to, in what the Office of Special Counsel determined was a Hatch Act violation.

But the investigations also broadened and found that Rollins misled investigators with the Department of Justice Inspector General, when she denied, under oath, that she disclosed sensitive, confidential information to a Boston Herald reporter in an attempt to discredit Kevin Hayden, a political foe who was running in — and eventual won — the race for district attorney.

In an interview in early December, investigators said, Rollins adamantly denied being a source cited in the Herald story. “No, no, no,” she said. “No.”

She also claimed ignorance when asked if she had any suspicions of who the source might have been. “I don’t have any,” she said.

But investigators later received copies of her text messages with the reporter, showing she leaked an internal memo to the reporter that provided the basis for a story that the US Attorney’s Office had been considering investigating Hayden. During a subsequent interview on Dec. 15, Rollins admitted she was, in fact, the source, the report said.


Mike Carrazza, a former FBI agent who spent more than a dozen years investigating public corruption and now works as a consultant, said he was surprised prosecutors punted on the lying allegations, which he said seemed like a “slam dunk.”

Still, he said, the allegations that she lied, and that she inappropriately involved herself in an election and released non-public government documents, could lead to fines and possibly the suspension or revocation of her law license.

“There’s certainly potential for disbarment,” Carrazza said. “She certainly satisfied the requirements of knowingly lying to a federal agent. . . It touches how egregious and blatant the multiple instances were. It’s kind of hard for the Board of Bar Overseers not to look.”

Robert Fisher, a former federal prosecutor now with Nixon Peabody LLP, said that typically the board — an independent body that investigates complaints against lawyers — will launch a probe when an attorney is charged with a crime or convicted of one. But, he said, it’s not required to wait until then.

“This is rather high-profile,” Fisher said of Rollins’s case. “The most damaging parts of the report I read was the [allegation of] lying during a federal investigation.”


The allegations could also be fodder for a referral to the Department of Justice’s own Office of Professional Responsibility, experts say. But that office, which investigates allegations of misconduct within the agency, generally limits investigations to current DOJ employees, complicating whether it would pursue an investigation into Rollins once she leaves the office.

“It’s also sometimes referred to as an office where ethics allegations go to die,” said Clark, the Washington University law professor.

Joseph Berman, general counsel for the state’s Board of Bar Overseers, declined to comment Thursday, as did officials from the Department of Justice.

Rollins’s attorney, Michael Bromwich, called it premature and “inappropriate to speculate about any potential future collateral proceedings.”

“As I’m sure you can understand, Ms. Rollins had had a full and difficult week— making the decision to resign and dealing with the fallout from the two reports,” he said in an e-mail. “We will leave such speculation to pundits who enjoy seeing their names in stories about other people.”

Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said the conduct described in the reports on Rollins is an “ethics lawyer’s nightmare.”

”Some of these things if they happened in isolation would be less of a big deal,” Marsco said, noting that soliciting Celtics tickets or attending a fund-raiser are still violations. “When you stack up all of these, what it shows is a pattern of disregard for ethics laws and rules, and a disregard of public trust.


“It’s all really bad,” she said. “When you put it all together, it’s stunningly bad.”

There appeared to be other fallout from this week’s events. Rollins had been scheduled to receive an honorary degree from New England Law at its commencement ceremony Friday. But Jennifer Kelly, a school spokeswoman, said Thursday that Rollins is not attending.

“Our institute’s focus is on our graduates and their accomplishments,” she said.

Milton J. Valencia of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Adam Sennott contributed to this report.

Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.