“It’s a huge, huge problem,” said Lisa Hewitt, general counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which oversees the provision of legal services to the poor. “Not only are these individuals faced with incarceration, but there are collateral consequences. People had parental rights terminated. People lost public housing. People were deported. There are so many things attached to this situation.”
A special court will be created in each county, according to a statement from Mulligan, and a judge will be designated to oversee the new court, according to one judge briefed on the plan.
It is possible that more than a single judge will hear the cases, depending on the workload, the judge said.
“I have never, ever seen anything like this,” said the judge, who is not authorized to speak to the media and therefore requested to remain anonymous. “It’s astounding. The response has been very positive in terms of the commitment that individuals who are generally on opposites sides have to justice and to individual rights. That’s been very encouraging.”
Said another judge, who also requested anonymity, “This is something unprecedented as far as I’m concerned.”
Problems have emerged in drug labs elsewhere in the United States, but only rarely.
In California, Deborah Madden, a former crime lab technician, is on trial in federal court for allegedly stealing cocaine from a San Francisco laboratory, which led to the dismissal of hundreds of cases.
Scott Sugarman, a San Francisco criminal lawyer, said that several of his clients had cases dismissed because of the scandal, and that he and other lawyers were stunned by Madden’s alleged actions.
“The public and defense lawyers kind of assumed that the scientific part of police agencies and prosecutions are sort of neutral and have integrity to them. And, unfortunately, it told us that even something as simple as testing drugs doesn’t [always], unfortunately, and we can’t take it for granted,” Sugarman said.
“It was pretty shocking to us that it happened,” he said.
Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, said Dookhan’s alleged actions are not without precedent but far from typical.
“I can’t stress enough that in my opinion, this is a rare, rare exception in labs across the country,” said Burns, a former district attorney in Utah who also served as deputy drug czar in the White House during George W. Bush’s administration.
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.