Pittsfield judge to oversee drug case appeals for Berkshires


PITTSFIELD -- Judge Paul M. Vrabel has been appointed to oversee any Berkshire County district court-level drug case appeals should they have involved the state drug testing lab where evidence was mishandled.

The scandal erupted last month after it was determined that Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at the now-shuttered Jamaica Plain facility, had allegedly mishandled thousands of pieces of drug evidence going back to 2003. Dookhan, 34, is now facing criminal charges related to the matter.

An onslaught of legal challenges to drug convictions is expected statewide, and the state Trial Court appointed judges to oversee appeals in 12 of the 14 Massachusetts counties. If there are any local appeals, hearings will take place at Central Berkshire District Court, according to Supreme Judicial Court spokeswoman Erika Gully-Santiago.

On the Superior Court level, Judge J. Jeffrey Kinder will oversee any cases from Berkshire County, along with any from the other three western counties.

The Trial Court announcement came after it was initially reported the problems were limited to the eastern half of the state.

"The Trial Court has been told there are some cases that have been affected from Worcester and the Western counties," Gully-Santiago told The Eagle on Wednesday.

According to Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless, in the more than 20 years he has been with the Office of the District Attorney, he isn't aware of any evidence sent to the Jamaica Plain lab.

"We send it to either Amherst or to the state police lab in Sudbury," Capeless said.

Even so, his office reviewed 16 names of defendants provided by the "boiler room," the central office established to oversee the review of potentially affected cases. None of the names were associated with cases Capeless' office handled, he said.

"They were the same names, but were in other places," he said.

The list was generated from pieces of evidence handled by Dookhan which were identified by a name and little else. Capeless said there was no date of birth and the names were "not uncommon."

According to Capeless, his office has gone beyond investigating the list provided by the state and is proactively looking into other cases to make sure the evidence was not handled by Dookhan.

"We have an obligation to make sure that if there was an injustice, it gets corrected," said Capeless.

The DA said in circumstances when they prosecuted second-offense drug cases, they looked into whether the drugs tested for the underlying offense had been tested at Jamaica Plain by Dookhan.

"We found one like that, but it was not [Dookhan's] case," he said.

To reach Andrew Amelinckx:
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On Twitter: @BE_TheAmelinckx


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