A federal jury on Monday rejected an effort to hold state officials financially liable for the wrongdoing of Annie Dookhan, the former drug lab chemist who admitted to tampering with evidence in hundreds of cases.
A Boston man who served two and a half years in prison based on evidence handled by Dookhan sued three of Dookhan’s former supervisors at the Department of Public Health Hinton laboratory, alleging they were negligent for failing to notice and report her wrongdoing.
After just over three hours of deliberations, the federal jury delivered a verdict in favor of the defendants: Julie Nassif, who oversaw the Division of Analytical Chemistry within the Department of Public Health at the time of Dookhan’s crimes; Linda Han, who was the director of the crime lab; and Charles Salemi, who was the supervisor of operations.
Lawyers for the defendants said the verdict will likely set the standard for similar lawsuits against their clients in the future.
“What the evidence in this case showed is these supervisors conducted themselves in a reasonable, appropriate manner,” said Paul Kelly, who represented Han, who now works for Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
“These defendants lacked any knowledge of the misdeeds of Ms. Dookhan.”
Michael Grace, who represented Salemi, who is now retired, added, “A very dedicated public servant has been vindicated in this case.”
Michael L. Tumposky, a Boston lawyer who represented the plaintiff, David Jones, said he was disappointed with the outcome.
“What happened in the drug lab was wrong, and people in the drug lab needed to be held accountable,” said Tumposky, adding that he believes the lawsuit was successful in continuing to shine a light on the state’s drug lab scandal.
Dookhan, a chemist with the Department of Public Health from roughly 2003 to 2012, admitted in 2013 that she falsified drug tests by labeling substances as drugs even if she never tested them; mixing substances with drugs so that they tested positive; or misrepresenting the weight of substances, which affected the outcome of criminal cases.
Her wrongdoing was only detected after the State Police, while in the process of merging the state’s drug testing laboratory with the state crime laboratory, conducted an audit of the lab in 2012.
Dookhan at first lied about her misdeeds but later claimed she was only trying to boost her job performance. She is serving a 3- to 5-year prison sentence.
Tens of thousands of cases that had evidence tested by Dookhan immediately became subject to review, a process that is ongoing. Hundreds of defendants have been released from prison.
Jones, the plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, had his conviction for selling crack cocaine overturned based on Dookhan’s involvement in testing drug evidence.
An Office of Inspector General report also found a pattern of mismanagement at the Jamaica Plain laboratory that allowed Dookhan’s wrongdoing to go undetected.
Former Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach resigned amid the scandal.
Several federal lawsuits have been filed seeking damages against Dookhan and her supervisors; the Jones case was the first to go to trial.
Robert Launie, a lawyer for Nasiff, who now works for the state of New Hampshire, said he expects Monday’s verdict will set a standard for the remaining cases.
“The fact is, the evidence won’t change, as far as Ms. Nasiff is concerned,” he said. “This jury listened to the evidence carefully and came back with a verdict the evidence supported.”
Kelly, the lawyer for Han, lashed out at the Office of Inspector General report, saying it sought to scapegoat the three defendants and protect “the higher levels of state government.”
“These are people they tried to dump it on, and the jury didn’t accept that,” he said.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.