The three-year-old federal money-laundering case against prominent Brockton Republican Lawrence P. Novak took an unusual twist last week, with a ruling by former US Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
O'Connor, a part-time appellate judge since retiring from the high court, overturned a lower court decision that excluded key evidence in the case against Novak.
Federal prosecutors had charged Novak, a Republican State Committee member and private attorney, with attempting to launder money for a client accused of dealing drugs.
But in her decision, O'Connor questioned the behavior of the police in obtaining the evidence in wiretapping a conversation between Novak and the accused drug dealer. She said that recording attorney-client calls appears to violate state regulations and is also questionable under the US Constitution's guarantee of a right to counsel.
"The monitoring of these calls, made between an attorney and a client seeking legal advice, is troubling," she wrote.
The parties in the case were tight-lipped about the ruling.
A spokeswoman for US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, who brought the charges against Novak in 2005, said the case would proceed. "We intend to vigorously pursue the prosecution in the district courts," said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified.
Novak's lawyer, Thomas Kiley, declined to comment directly on O'Connor's ruling. "We will examine all of our options," he said.
The charges against Novak stem from State Police recordings of telephone conversations he had with a client, Scott Holyoke, who was being held in the Barnstable County Jail on charges of methamphetamine trafficking. State Police recorded those conversations, and then government officials approached Holyoke and asked him to cooperate in an investigation of Novak.
Holyoke agreed, and, with his knowledge, officials taped further conversations between Holyoke and Novak. Prosecutors allege that in those conversations Novak agreed to launder drug money and keep $60,000 for himself.
Last year a federal judge disqualified the evidence on the grounds that the initial wiretapping of Holyoke and Novak was obtained illegally.
While O'Connor's ruling allows the prosecution to go forward, it also appears to open the door to another appeal by Novak on constitutional grounds. The right to counsel is guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment, while Novak's initial challenge to the government's evidence was based on the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
O'Connor ruled that since Novak's client had been informed about and consented to the recording, the Fourth Amendment did not apply.
The legal troubles of Novak, chairman of the Brockton Republican City Committee and a candidate for state representative this fall, have presented a challenge to state GOP officials.
The party suspended him from his elective position as a member of the Republican State Committee after his arrest in September 2005. He was returned to the panel in March, after voters elected him again in the February party primary.
Novak was serving as state party vice chairman when he was arrested. He stepped down voluntarily from that position, but he has maintained his innocence since the charges were brought against him.
Of the latest turn in the case, state Republican Party spokesman Barney Keller said, "I think Larry Novak is entitled to his day in court, just like every other American."
Novak declined to comment last week either about the legal case or his political plans. He is the only Republican running for the state House of Representatives seat that incumbent Democrat Thomas P. Kennedy is giving up to run for the state Senate.
Three Democrats are vying for their party's nomination for the Brockton House seat. They are city councilors Michael D. Brady and Robert F. Sullivan and Conor Yunits, a former aide to Kennedy and the son of former mayor John T. Yunits Jr.
Conor Yunits questioned whether Novak should be a candidate. "Clearly he has put himself in a position where the public would have a hard time trusting him," Yunits said.
Sullivan said he did not want to comment on his Republican opponent's case. "I'm just concentrating on the Democratic primary," he said.
Robert Preer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.