Prosecutors to seek $10m a year to resolve drug cases
County district attorneys will ask the Patrick administration for about $10 million a year so they can hire prosecutors, investigators, and support staff necessary to deal with the thousands of criminal cases that must be reviewed following the state drug lab scandal, according to several law enforcement officials who were briefed on the budget plans.
Prosecutors and the defense bar agree that unraveling the scandal, linked to former chemist Annie Dookhan, in courthouses across the state will take years to complete, meaning that prosecutors alone may need upward of $50 million if their work takes five years to finish, the officials said. It is the first detailed estimate of legal costs linked to the evidence tampering.
“We certainly could be looking at a multiyear effect on the system,’’ said Michael O’Keefe, district attorney for the Cape and Islands and vice president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. “There will be costs to every office across the state in dealing with these cases.’’
But the request by the MDAA, which is expected to be provided to the Patrick administration this week, represents just one part of the criminal justice system reeling from the unprecedented scandal at the closed Department of Public Health lab in Jamaica Plain.
The Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency, is still working on its supplemental budget plan and has not yet reached a firm number, said Lisa Hewitt, the agency’s general counsel.
But, she said, her agency’s needs will echo those of the state’s county prosecutors. State Police have said former chemist Annie Dookhan handled 60,000 drug samples linked to 34,000 criminal cases, and Hewitt and others in the criminal justice community anticipate that most defendants will have had court-appointed attorneys through the state agency.
“The scope of the problem is so undefined; it’s so broad,’’ said Hewitt. “But it likely will cost us millions of dollars. We will probably need multimillions of dollars.’’
The Executive Office of Administration and Finance will consider the requests, which are due by Oct. 24, and formulate a supplemental budget request to submit to the state Legislature.
Dookhan has pleaded not guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice and is free on $10,000 cash bail. She has allegedly confessed that “for about two to three years” she tampered with evidence, violated lab protocol, and forged the signatures of her colleagues on drug evidence paperwork.
Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett estimates he will need a maximum of $2 million to deal with his share of the Dookhan cases, which currently amounts to about 8,500 samples that have to be matched to defendants as a first step in analyzing the impact on prosecutions.
He said his office now has to track down individual files from eight district courts and superior courts.
He said the money would be used to hire nine prosecutors for appeals and to handle superior and district court cases, an IT person to manage the data collection and storage, five clerks to obtain court records, scanning machines to scan the documents into the computer system, and two administrative staff members to run the “war room.’’
He also said his current office space in Salem is full and he will need more space for the new wave of Dookhan-focused employees.