Thursday October 25, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- An independent investigator should be appointed to oversee a wider probe into the testing scandal at a now-closed Massachusetts drug lab, which has thrown thousands of criminal cases into doubt, legal groups said Wednesday.

Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at the lab, is accused of skirting protocols and faking drug test results. She has pleaded not guilty to obstructing justice. Officials said Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples involving about 34,000 individuals over a nine-year period.

The Massachusetts Bar Association, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts signed a letter to state Attorney General Martha Coakley asking her to name an independent investigator with subpoena power to conduct the broader probe into the lab.

"In order for an expanded investigation to be deemed credible and beyond reproach, to truly expedite an incontrovertible resolution to the crisis, and to fully restore public confidence in our criminal justice system, the body that steers this investigation must be one that has not, and cannot be perceived as having any stake in the outcome of the investigation," the letter stated.

The lawyers expressed concern that having Coakley’s office handle responsibility for the wider probe could raise conflict-of-interest questions, since the attorney general prosecutes drug cases and has represented the drug lab in past legal proceedings.

Brad Puffer, a spokesman for the attorney general, said in a statement that the office was surprised by the request for an independent investigator.


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He said the attorney general, who was reviewing the letter, had been working with defense attorneys for weeks to assure a "fair, complete and transparent investigation into the broader issues at the lab."

Martin Healy, chief legal counsel for the state bar association, said the request was not meant as a criticism of Coakley or her office.

"This involves the personal liberty of potentially thousands of individuals and in order to restore complete public confidence, this matter calls for an independent investigator," Healy said in an interview.