BOSTON – Gov. Deval Patrick has ordered a "file-by-file review" of every case handled by a Massachusetts chemist accused of faking test results at a now-closed government lab, as authorities continue to deal with the fallout from a scandal that threatens to unravel thousands of criminal cases.
The chemist, Annie Dookhan, is accused of skirting protocols and manipulating drug samples at a former Department of Public Health drug lab where she worked for nine years. She has pleaded not guilty to charges in the case, but prosecutors said in a court motion Tuesday they expect she will be indicted.
The scandal has already led to hundreds of legal challenges to criminal convictions in cases in which Dookhan tested drug samples.
David Meier, a former state prosecutor appointed by the governor to identify cases Dookhan worked on, said Tuesday that Patrick has authorized a massive review of Dookhan's cases, estimated to number about 34,000.
"In order to do that, the governor has decided to devote whatever resources are necessary to do a file-by-file review of each of her cases," Meier said.
Speaking to reporters, Meier said his team has identified about 10,000 people whose drug cases were potentially affected by Dookhan's alleged misconduct.
The group initially focused on identifying about 2,000 people who were already in prison or in custody awaiting trial in cases in which Dookhan tested drugs. Those cases have been making their way through the courts in special sessions set up to handle the large number of legal challenges. The cases were given top priority because the defendants involved were incarcerated and had the right to seek release on bail while their challenges are resolved by judges.
Meier said his team has identified 7,000 to 8,000 other people who were previously convicted in Superior Court or are on probation or parole now in cases handled by Dookhan.
He said many of the remaining 24,000 cases may involve people whose cases were handled in district or municipal courts, where the majority of drug charges are adjudicated.
Meier said he expects the review of Dookhan's cases could take three to four months, if not longer. He said his staff may have to look through all or most of the files at the lab to determine which cases Dookhan worked on as either a primary chemist who performed an initial test on a substance or as a secondary chemist who performed a confirmatory test.
Dookhan, 35, of Franklin was charged in September with obstruction of justice and falsifying her academic credentials. An assistant attorney general said at the time that the charges were "preliminary" and that a "much broader" investigation was being conducted.
On Tuesday, a Boston Municipal Court judge granted a motion filed by state Attorney General Martha Coakley's office asking that a pretrial hearing scheduled for Dec. 3 be rescheduled to Dec. 20.
In the motion filed in court, prosecutors said the continuance was being sought because "a grand jury investigation is on-going with indictments expected" after Dec. 3.
The motion said Dookhan's defense attorney agreed to the continuance.
Dookhan, who is free on $10,000 bail, hasn't responded to repeated requests for comment. Her attorney, Nicolas Gordon, did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Coakley, also declined to comment on whether the indictments could include additional charges against Dookhan.
The Department of Public Health lab where Dookhan worked was shut down in August after state police took over as part of a state budget directive and discovered that the problems in Dookhan cases went beyond some isolated irregularities.
Coakley's office is conducting a criminal investigation, while state Inspector General Glenn Cunha is reviewing whether the problems at the lab went beyond Dookhan and her immediate supervisor.