The state’s commission on judicial conduct has dismissed a complaint filed by Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, accusing Boston Municipal Court first judge Raymond G. Dougan of deep-seated bias against prosecutors and police.
In a terse, three-paragraph letter, issued Nov. 30 but never publicized, chairman Paul F. LoConto said the commission had voted to dismiss the complaint after a thorough investigation, which was conducted by a special counsel, and “a review of the available evidence.”
Conley filed his extraordinary 61-page complaint two years ago, detailing dozens of cases in which his office alleged Dougan sided with defendants and ignored laws he didn’t agree with.
The complaint was notable for both the breadth of the allegations and the fact that they were brought forth by someone whose staff had to continue appearing before the judge each day.
A 2011 Globe review found that prosecutors challenged Dougan’s decisions more than those of any other sitting BMC judge. In addition, appeals courts reversed or modified Dougan’s rulings more than any other BMC judge.
Conley Wednesday harshly criticized the commission for conducting the lengthy investigation behind closed doors, with no public accountability .
“The judicial conduct commission offered no explanation for its decision,” said Conley, who described the panel as “weak and ineffective.” “The entire process took place in secret and out of public view.
“Massachusetts judges have long been afforded the greatest protections, probably in America, to allow them to do their jobs with independence of mind and conscience,” Conley said. “But our nation’s founders never believed, and neither should we, that to insure judicial independence, we must remove all accountability.”
Dougan’s lawyer Michael Keating declined comment on the investigation, but said he and Dougan were “very pleased that this ordeal is over for him and he can continue as he has been to serve the Commonwealth as the first justice of the BMC. We’ve always taken the position that he performs excellent service for the Commonwealth.”
According to one court employee, Dougan Wednesday appeared “ecstatic,” telling co-workers he had been “completely exonerated.”
Attempts to reach commission officials and special counsel J. William Codinha for comment were unsuccessful.
Just last week, the Appeals Court reversed a 2010 ruling by Dougan that had allowed a man convicted of beating the mother of his child to withdraw his plea, calling Dougan’s finding “an abuse of discretion.”
Also last week, Conley’s office filed a new, nearly 50-page appeal of a case in which Dougan reduced the probation conditions of Fernando Hernandez, a man with 54 prior convictions, and failed to order him to a batterers program, even though it was mandatory.
In the appeal, Conley’s lawyers asked the Supreme Judicial Court for a sweeping order that would bar Dougan from altering probation orders or conditions.
“A supervisory order is necessary as this judge has indicated his willingness to disregard the law, and to do so repeatedly, and in a variety of different contexts until a court specifically” tells him him he cannot, prosecutors wrote.
In the appeal, Conley’s office recited a case—also contained in the complaint to the judicial conduct commision— where Dougan dismissed drunken driving charges against Daniel Quispe, a native of Peru, even though Boston police said his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit. Dougan said he was serving “public justice” by dropping the charges because Quispe faced possible deportation if convicted.
The state’s Supreme Judicial Court struck down Dougan’s decision in 2001, ruling that the judge’s personal views on immigration law “are irrelevant and undermine the principle of separation of powers.”
On Wednesday Conley said he doesn’t regret filing the complaint, even knowing “it would anger powerful interests in the Massachusetts legal community.
“My first obligation first and foremost is to the people of Suffolk County—their safety and the rights of victims to see that justice is done fairly and without bias,” Conley said.
In August, the Supreme Judicial Court barred investigators from the commission from asking Dougan how he reached his decisions, ruling that judges have an absolute “judicial deliberative privilege.”
Dougan had appealed to the high court after the Commission on Judicial Conduct sought to delve into his decisions by interviewing him and reviewing his notes and diaries. The court ruled that he could ask factual questions but not how he arrived at individual decisions.
The case sparked intense interests among judges and defense lawyers, who sided with Dougan and accused Conley of trying to stifle judicial independence and intimidate judges who ruled against him. They argued that Dougan was exercising his judicial discretion.
Thomas Hoopes, a defense lawyer who chairs the Massachusetts Bar Association’s “fair and impartial courts committee,” said the Bar Association was pleased with the result. “The Mass bar has had a strong and abiding concern that this process would affect the independence of judges here in Massachusetts. We view this as central to fair and impartial justice. “
Conley Wednesday urged state lawmakers to revamp and strengthen the commission and “consider ways to improve judicial accountability and make the judiciary a more transparent branch of government.”Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.