Defense lawyers, meanwhile, raise the possibility that everything the Jamaica Plain lab processed, beyond just the cases that Dookhan herself tested, could be unreliable. Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state public defender agency, says there are enough questions about Dookhan’s motives and behavior — as well as oversight lapses at the lab — that defense lawyers may challenge any drug charges based on the lab’s work, a prospect that could cost as much as $332 million. Noting that Dookhan has allegedly admitted to State Police that she tampered with evidence, Benedetti says, “How do you know she wasn’t doing that in other cases?”
As of late November, Meier and his team had identified about 10,000 of the 34,000 people who were possibly affected by Dookhan’s work, including roughly 2,000 who were in some form of custody, making them the priority. Meier’s group then planned to focus on the others, piecing together cases file by file. That process could take months.
Ultimately the resolution of all the cases, which have begun cycling through the courts, will depend on how judges, district attorneys, defense lawyers, and other authorities decide to handle them. (Meier intends to have no role in the adjudication.) The judiciary has created special sessions devoted to drug lab cases in courthouses across the state. The remedies will be varied, and they will be vast.
I ask Meier in one of our conversations if he misses the rough-and-tumble intensity of the Suffolk prosecutor’s life. “Yes,” he says with little hesitation. “I miss the intensity. I miss the camaraderie. And there are some things I don’t miss.” Meier, who also teaches a seminar on homicide investigations to third-year BU law students, insists he did not accept the drug lab post out of wistfulness. “In and of itself, change is good,” he says. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given at my law firm.”
Those who know him, though, are thrilled to see him back in a public role. “When I heard he’d been appointed by the governor, I thought, he’s back to public service — because he’s got this very strong streak of serving the public good,” says Margaret Hinkle, a retired Superior Court judge who presided over a number of Meier’s homicide cases. Hinkle and others wonder whether Meier is one day destined for the bench himself.
For Meier — just as in his early days in Middlesex, his big-ticket prosecutions in Suffolk County, and his novel work on wrongful convictions — the drug lab crisis, for now, presents a chance to put his ideals into practice for a larger good.
“In any organization or in any system, there are defining moments. There are defining times,” he tells me. “And I think this is one of them for the criminal justice system.” He continues: “There’s no road map. There’s no blueprint. But there are principles and there are priorities. And is it a challenge? Sure it is. But there’s a right way of going about everything. And this is no different.”