Gov. Patrick, district attorneys discuss state drug lab crisis

Governor Deval Patrick met today with district attorneys, as well as his secretaries of public health and public safety, to discuss the crisis brewing because of the mishandling of drug case evidence by a chemist at a state drug lab.

Patrick said he had proposed a “boiler room or war room” of people who will try to create a comprehensive list of defendants who may have had their cases affected by tainted drug evidence.

“I can tell you that all of the district attorneys, the attorney general, and all of the folks who work with me are determined to see that justice is done,” he told reporters after leaving the meeting at a state office building on Beacon Hill.

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State officials are investigating whether a chemist at the Jamaica Plain lab mishandled drug evidence during her tenure there, from 2003 to this March. More than 60,000 cases are being reviewed out of fear that evidence has been compromised, the Globe reported this morning.

“The potential total universe [of affected cases] is quite broad,” Patrick said. “You have seen those numbers. But the point is to get it to specific individuals, to make sure we are getting to the right cases, and finding out exactly what happened, and that we are dealing with real, live people and real, live cases.”

Patrick has also said he is looking into the delay in reporting the problems at the lab. Asked if there could be disciplinary action, he said, “You are going to hear a lot more about that at the end of the week.”

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, vice president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said the meeting, which also included Attorney General Martha Coakley, was productive because officials laid out a strategy to identify defendants who were affected.

“We all have the same goal in mind, which is that the integrity of the criminal justice system be preserved,” O’Keefe said. “We all recognize the district attorneys need additional information in order to make the kind of decisions that have to be made to ensure no one is imprisoned or convicted improperly as a result of the actions that took place at the Department of Public Health laboratory. … That’s the priority at the moment.”

O’Keefe said the district attorneys also were made more aware of the extent of the alleged wrongdoing at the laboratory, information he has maintained will be crucial as prosecutors decide how to proceed in reviewing convictions and open cases.

He would not disclose the information, citing an ongoing State Police investigation, but said, “I think we all had a full and frank discussion.”

“We don’t want to be spinning wheels here. We want to have the best strategy we can have.”

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