The Supreme Judicial Court agreed Thursday that the assistant attorney general who led the state’s prosecution of criminal chemist Sonja Farak should be disbarred and another be suspended for a year and a day for “crossing that line” between fair and foul.
When it dismissed thousands of pending drug charges and drug convictions tainted by evidence tampering by Farak at the former state drug lab in Amherst, the SJC faulted two AAGs – Anne Kaczmarek and Kris Foster – for failing to disclose pertinent information about Farak’s mental health and substance abuse to defense attorneys seeking to have client convictions overturned.
The Board of Bar Overseers recommended that Kaczmarek be disbarred and that Foster be suspended for a year and a day for their involvement in withholding exculpatory evidence, and that AAG John Verner be suspended for three months for neglecting his duties as supervisor of the Farak prosecution. The SJC ruled Thursday that Verner should only be publicly reprimanded, but upheld the board’s punishments for Kaczmarek and Foster.
“[E]ach respondent’s misconduct caused great harm, both to the criminal defendants whose cases were corrupted by Farak’s tampering and to the public’s perception of the criminal justice system,” Justice Frank Gaziano wrote.
Gaziano said the punishments were just because “Kaczmarek was most culpable for the AGO’s failure to turn over all exculpatory information, and because she displayed a lack of candor and remorse at the disciplinary hearing,” and because “Foster was reckless in her representations about what the AGO had disclosed, and otherwise exhibited incompetence in her response to the subpoena and discovery motions.” He added that “Kaczmarek’s striking lack of truthfulness is deeply troublesome with respect to her capacity to practice law.”
Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said thousands of CPCS clients had their due process rights violated for more than a decade “due to egregious prosecutorial misconduct” that often goes unpunished.
“[W]e applaud the Supreme Judicial Court and the Board of Bar Overseers for holding those responsible accountable,” he said. “Prosecutors wield great power, and when it is used inappropriately, it can wreak havoc on our system.”
Farak pleaded guilty in 2014, while Martha Coakley was still the attorney general, to stealing evidence at the Department of Public Health drug laboratory in Amherst and using drugs while on the job. Gov. Maura Healey worked in the attorney general’s office at the time, but was not a part of the criminal division.