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Legal Groups Call on Attorney General to Step Down From JP State Drug Lab Investigation

Three prominent legal groups say Attorney General Martha Coakley must hand over her investigation of the JP State Drug Lab scandal to an independent body.

Can the state's top law enforcement official be trusted to carry out the probe into what went wrong at the State Drug Lab in JP?

Several legal and civil liberties groups said "No" on Wednesday. 

The Massachusetts Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union and Committee for Public Counsel Services sent a letter calling on Attorney General Martha Coakley to hand the investigation to an independent body.

"As unimpeachable as the Office of Attorney General is," read the letter, "an institution that prosecutes drug cases, supports the State Police unit that investigates drug cases and also supports drug cases by District Attorneys will be perceived as having a stake in the investigation's outcome."

Brad Puffer, a spokesperson for the attorney general, said it was Coakley's office that discovered problems at the lab were much larger than originally thought.

"We are surprised by today’s letter and press release," Puffer wrote, "after we have been working for weeks with defense counsel to establish a protocol to ensure a fair, complete and transparent investigation into those broader issues at the lab."

The scandal has shaken the foundations of the state's justice system. More than 1,100 inmates have already been identified as being behind bars on evidence that may have been tainted by "rogue chemist" Annie Dookhan. Over the course of her nine years at the State Drug Lab in JP, supervisors failed to stop what may have been her .

Courts across the state are working through the mountain of cases. Hundreds of convicted drug dealers stand to be set loose.

The full letter from the legal defense and civil liberties groups is attached to this post.

The call for Coakley to step aside from the probe is only the latest in a string of consequences for leaders in the state's bureacracy. Already, the head of the Department of Public Health has resigned over his department's failure to properly supervise the JP lab. Lab officials have also resigned or been fired.

As for Dookhan, she faces charges of obstruction of justice and falsely claiming a university degree. She remains free on $10,000 bail. The attorney general filed those charges and has said she expects to bring further charges.

For all of Jamaica Plain Patch's coverage of the JP Drug Lab Scandal, please visit our topic page on the issue.

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