At a daylong conference for lawyers, judges and prosecutors, Chief Judge Mark Wolf of the District of Massachusetts said an ongoing state drug lab scandal involving a rogue chemist could affect hundreds of federal cases.
The district’s Bench and Bar Conference, held on October 19, covered a wide range of topics, from civil rights to patent law. The Newton, Mass., event attracted 325 participants.
Wolf, who is taking senior status in January, made his remarks during a brief “State of the Court” address during lunchtime.
On September 28, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office announced the arrest of former state drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan, 34, of Franklin, Mass. Dookhan was charged with “obstructing justice by lying about the integrity of evidence” and her educational qualifications.
Wolf said that, according to the work done so far, there are 100 to 200 federal prosecutions involving drugs tested by Dookhan. There are also hundreds of more cases that “may not be valid,” Wolf said. “We’re now confronted with this challenge. It will be expensive to appoint lawyers” to figure out which cases are affected, he said. But if the court doesn’t make the effort “we may be permitting genuine injustice.”
According to an October 12 Boston Globe story, a state-appointed lawyer is reviewing some 34,000 old and new cases that could have been affected by Dookhan’s faulty testing.
Also at the conference, an intellectual property panel titled “Patent Reform: How the America Invents Act Will Change Patent Litigation in the District of Massachusetts,” touched on the far-reaching impact of the America Invents Act.
The patent reform law took effect on September 16, 2011, but some provisions are being phased in through next March.
Panelist Erik Belt, a partner in the Boston office of McCarter & English, predicts that companies will file more preliminary injunction motions against alleged infringers within three months of getting a patent. They will do that, he said, to stop alleged infringers from getting a lawsuit stayed by starting post-grant proceedings to challenge the patent at the patent office. Belt expects companies to use the tactic “almost as a defensive mechanism to protect [their] own patent.”
Belt also said there are some holes in the patent reform law. “I’ve read that statute many times cover to cover and I’m not sure all of the issues were fully considered in the drafting process,” Belt said.
A panel titled “Emerging Trends in Civil Rights” focused on how technology, such as the cellphone camera, is affecting civil rights cases. Springfield City Solicitor Edward Pikula said some legal cases are springing from the fact that “we are all being watched constantly including the police.”
Pikula mentioned a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts against the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security for information about the government’s use of automatic license plate readers.
Springfield uses such technology to find people who owe excise taxes but overwrites the data the next day. The ACLU’s current suit is for information, but “the next step may be challenging the uses [of the data],” Pikula said.
Boston lawyer Howard Friedman said he expects an August 2011 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Glik v. Cunniffe, which held that videotaping police in the course of their duties is “unambiguously” a free speech right, will apply to secret records of police actions when that question arises.
That case was brought by Massachusetts lawyer Simon Glik. Glik sued the city of Boston and three local police officers alleging violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights after he was arrested for filming police activity with his cellphone. Friedman’s Boston-based firm, Law Offices of Howard Friedman, represented Glik.
“We all now are carrying around video cameras. The questions that come up, of course, are what’s next? The next case is secret recording. I don’t even think this secrecy distinction can possibly stand,” Friedman said.
In March, the city of Boston paid Glik $170,000 to settle his case against the city and three police officers.
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at email@example.com.