Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Asked to Dismiss Cases Tied to Former Drug Lab Chemist

A petition submitted Wednesday to the highest court in Massachusetts seeks the dismissal of every case connected to a convicted former state chemist who authorities say was high almost every day she went to work at a state drug lab for eight years.

The petition was filed with the Supreme Judicial Court by the state's public defender agency - the Committee for Public Counsel Services - and two women whose drug possession convictions are tied to evidence handled by chemist Sonja Farak.

Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine from the state crime lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.

The lab tested drug samples for police. Authorities said Farak was high on methamphetamines, ketamine, cocaine, LSD and other drugs during most of her time there, even when she testified in court. She worked at the lab between 2005 and 2013.

Herschelle Reaves, of Springfield, and Nicole Westcott, of Granby, say the state failed to notify them of Farak's misconduct even after her conviction, depriving them of the opportunity to challenge their convictions. The women are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Boston law firm Fick & Marx LLP.

The petition takes aim at thousands of cases considered tainted because of Farak.

"Thousands of people, mostly poor, mostly of color, and many afflicted by the medical disease of drug addiction, have been harmed by the Amherst drug lab fiasco," said Ben Keehn, an attorney with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Boston Globe reported.

In June, Hampden County Superior Court Judge Richard Carey dismissed the convictions of seven defendants and allowed another to withdraw a guilty plea in cases connected to evidence tested by Farak.

A spokeswoman with the attorney general's office said it has been working with district attorneys and other parties to "provide appropriate relief" to the thousands of criminal defendants impacted by Farak's misconduct.

"The ACLU and CPCS were well aware of these efforts, but chose to file this petition anyway," said Jillian Fennimore. ``We welcome their input as we move forward to provide the swift resolution that Farak defendants deserve."

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, President of the Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association, released a statement saying that Wednesday's filing was not unexpected.

"Sonia Farak’s criminal conduct had a devastating impact on cases across the Commonwealth. Although this is not a problem of our making, but rather stems from a problem that occurred within the state’s Public Health Department, it has fallen on the District Attorneys to address it. We take this responsibility very seriously and are working to ensure that all defendants who may have been adversely affected are identified. Every District Attorney’s office has already been actively engaged in identifying cases that may have been impacted and we are currently in the process of reviewing all affected cases to reach a resolution as expeditiously as possible," read the statement from Ryan.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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