Another side to a judge’s free legal assistance

I don’t want to defend a possible conflict of interest on the part of a judge. But I do want to offer a different perspective on today’s lead story in The Boston Globe, in which we learn that a judge accused of misconduct received $550,000 in free legal assistance.

The Globe’s Andrea Estes reports that Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond Dougan received the free legal help in order to fight charges brought by Suffolk County District Attorney (and current mayoral candidate) Dan Conley that Dougan was biased in favor of defendants and against prosecutors. The Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct dismissed Conley’s complaint in late 2012.

In today’s story, Estes writes:

For more than two decades, the Judicial Conduct Commission had required judges to pay for their own legal representation during misconduct investigations. Free legal services could violate the state’s conflict-of-interest law and the code of conduct for judges, both of which prohibit giving gifts to public officials.

But consider. When Conley filed his complaint, he was in a no-lose situation. Even if Dougan ultimately prevailed, Conley knew that the judge would be ruined financially, and be held up as an object lesson for other judges wary of incurring the wrath of prosecutors. That’s outrageous, and tilts the balance in favor of the prosecution even more than it already is.

Dougan found a way around that. And keep in mind that Conley’s complaint was ultimately found to be bogus.

Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause, tells the Globe, “This is a very large sum of money, and only ­increases the need for a second look at the issue of legal representation of judges.”

Yes. And one way to do that is for the state to pay for legal services when judges  face allegations that don’t involve corruption or personal wrongdoing.

9 thoughts on “Another side to a judge’s free legal assistance

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Julian: More likely is that Conley deliberately filed a bogus complaint to show Judge Dougan who was in charge.

  1. Jim Callahan

    One way for a person in government to punish people is not by convicting them (that would be nice) but by making their lives merry hell in court on the taxpayer’s dime. How can the judge be blamed for seeking the best help available when officer of the government is using the power of the government to go after him. He’s supposed to be a cigar store dummy and just stand there? Don’t buy it.

  2. Larz Neilson

    That does raise some good questions. Is legal assistance of that value available to indigent defendants? How did Conley base his charges against Dougan? Was he possibly miffed about one or two particular cases he lost? Could it be there was some degree of ongoing prosecutorial incompetence?

  3. One thing that amazes me is how big the legal bill was!!! Is there something wrong w/ a fee structure that lets law firms’ meters run up such huge sums .Maybe that isnt even a HUGE number!!!!!.

  4. Victoria Nadel

    The common way to handle these kinds of cases is (a) bill the judge appropriately ($550k is a bill churn, not a legitimate cost) and accept whatever he can afford to pay without going after him for underpaying (b) donate the fee to a worthwhile charity. Providing free services to a sitting judge is unethical (no matter what the current rule may be); even if not unethical it certainly has the appearance of impropriety both by the judge and by counsel.

  5. Dan, why are you overlooking that the acquittal rate in Dougan’s court was astonishingly higher than that of every other court, that his decisions were overturned by appeals courts far more than any other judge’s decisions, that he ignored evidence, ignored laws he didn’t agree with, ignored probationary requirements like requiring defendants to enter batterers’ programs, the list goes on and on. Just last December, the Appeals Court reversed a 2010 ruling by Dougan that had allowed a man convicted of beating the mother of his child to withdraw his plea, a complete abuse of discretion. Also, the Judicial Conduct Commission that exonerated him was completely neutered, barred from questioning him about his reasoning behind his decisions. And the commission never explained why it had exonerated him. The process was completed under cloak of darkness, with no transparency whatsoever. Why are you defending this guy? He abuses all of us with his coddling of criminals.

  6. Jeff Peterson

    Dan, you seem to imply that Dougan deserved taxpayer-funded legal services simply by virtue of being a judge. Beyond the troubling implications vis-a-vis conflicts of interest, judges surely are not the only ones who find themselves a target of overzealous prosecutors looking to settle a score – professional, political or personal. I’m not sure what logic would justify extending what amounts to a blank check for defense counsel. I could just see governors, house speakers, senate presidents et al clamoring for similar benefits, inasmuch as they, too, might find themselves the target of misplaced prosecution – or maybe just nuisance lawsuits. And if inability to pay is no longer to be a defining consideration for eligibility, where would that line be drawn?

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