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.