Annie Dookhan And The Massachusetts Drug Lab Crisis

New Head Of Mass. Trial Courts Says System Is Poised For Reform


When Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula Carey takes over the Massachusetts Trial Court system in July, she will be in charge of a system stretched thin and troubled by scandals.

Budgets are tight. The state’s Probation Department is still cleaning up after a patronage hiring scandal. And thousands of criminal drug cases are in question after a state chemist was charged with falsifying drug evidence.

But Carey seems confident that the worst is behind the courts, and says the system is poised for reform. Speaking in her office Tuesday, Carey said the state Supreme Judicial Court will get a new strategic plan for the Trial Courts in the next week or so.

She would not reveal details of the plan, but emphasized that it has defined goals and methods of measuring those goals. She said the plan would be rolled out on a “very aggressive schedule, to the point that we may not be able to achieve everything we want in the first year. You’ve got to shoot higher than what you can achieve in order to be able to achieve the most that you can,” she said.

Carey pointed to her own experience as chief justice of the Probate and Family Court, implementing the uniform probate code that reformed guardianship and probate procedures.

“I’m not afraid to accept criticism where criticism’s warranted, however, generally, I’m going to respond by saying: but here’s what I’m doing about it or here’s what’s already being done about it.” Carey said. “And I hope that by being able to think differently that we can improve the way that we process cases in all court departments so that we’re more efficient for the general public and supportive for the judges as well.”

As for the challenges facing the Trial Court now, Carey said the Probation Department was “well on its way to becoming a well-functioning team.” She noted that there is a new hiring system in place, where applications go through a computer system first and any unqualified candidates are weeded out.

“Going forward, I think we’re in good shape. And in terms of hires in the past, if there’s been any circumstance where someone believes that they were aggrieved in some way, then we have addressed them or given them an opportunity to raise concerns,” Carey said.

Carey also seemed confident that the court system was adequately managing the fallout from the drug lab crisis, where state chemist Annie Dookhan allegedly tampered with drug evidence.

“I think all we can do is continue to deal with it the way that we’ve been dealing with it,” she said. “We haven’t had to ask for any additional allocation of resources at this point. We’ve done the best we can and we’ll continue to do the best we can to deal with those cases that come before us.”

Carey does not think whole cases should be thrown out if they were connected to the Hinton state drug lab, but should instead be reviewed individually.

Carey also said she is looking at practices in other states that could be applied to Massachusetts, such as court service centers in California and trying to computerize as much of the system as possible.


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