Some avid supporters of Martha Coakley and members of Blue Mass Group continue to insist that Martha Coakley’s views and actions concerning the notorious Fells Acre Day Care case should not be considered relevant for assessing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat to replace the the nearly irreplaceable and dearly missed Senator Ted Kennedy. I disagree strongly with that view, and this posting is an effort to explain why I believe Coakley’s handling and present views of post-conviction Fells Acre Day Care issues should be kept in mind by the Democratic U.S. Senate primary voters of Massachusetts as the special election approaches. The other U.S. Senate candidates should also be questioned about their views about Coakley’s post-conviction handling of the case and her current opinion that the overriding interests of justice were served in the Fells Acre Day Care matter. This is because their respective views on the Fells Acre Day Care case and its protracted legal aftermath suggest how protective of our constitutional substantive and procedural due process rights each would be when voting on pending Congressional legislation affecting those constitutional rights as our next U.S. Senator.
First, in the early prison release and extended probation agreement Middlesex DA Martha Coakley struck with Cheryl LeFave of the highly publicized Fells Acre Day Care Center case in October 1999, Middlesex DA Coakley insisted that Cheryl not be permitted to conduct any television interviews during year ten year probationary term.
In my twenty years of working in politics and the local legal community, I have never heard of such any other extended probationary “gag order” placed on a convicted felon, even in high profile cases such as this one. The insistence by Coakley to demand that such an onerous and constitutionally dubious provision be included in Cheryl’s early prison release and probation this agreement raises questions in my mind about her commitment to open government in areas such as reform of the recently narrowed scope of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) during the Bush era.(Incidentally, this constitutionally dubious provision of Cheryl’s early release and probationary agreement actually expires at the end of October, just in time for an exclusive interview by that rare enterprising local television reporter from one of our local TV outlets representing the MSM.)
Second, Coakley’s present support of the last Supreme Judicial Court Amirault/Fells Acre Day care decision of Sept 1999, which reinstated the overturned convictions of the Amiraults by citing the justice system’s “need for finality”, raises serious doubts about the former Middlesex DA’s commitment to pending federal statutory reforms that would protect the procedural and substantive due process rights of convicted felons.
For example, there is pending federal legislation that would guarantee the rights of all state and federal prisoners access to post-conviction DNA testing. As the junior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, the elected candidate would be voting on pending federal legislation in this area. It would be illuminating to learn from Attorney General Coakley and the other U.S. Senate candidates how their respective professional experience informs their particular views on this highly controversial constitutional criminal justice issue.
Does each Democratic U.S. Senate candidate support or oppose federal legislation that would guarantee the statutory right of all state and federal prisoners, including indigent ones, the right of access and testing to DNA testing that might free the wrongfully convicted? If each Democratic U.S. Senate candidate does support some form of guaranteed constitutional right to post-conviction DNA testing, does he or she support applying this DNA testing right retroactively to convictions going as far back as, say, 1986 when the Amiraults were initially convicted? Or maybe, the retroactivity provision should extend only to convictions occurring onward from 1976, the year our nation’s bicentennial? How many DNA tests would the U.S. Senate candidate permit a state and/or federal felon to demand? What scientific standards should federal legislation incorporate in order to guarantee fair and accurate DNA testing? I ask all of the above questions because, as the SJC stated and Martha Coakley, at least, affirms, we all must keep in mind the justice system’s paramount interest in “finality” as a core value of our constitutional republic.
Of course, I doubt any of the geniuses in the local MSM will raise these political and legal issues with AG Coakley or any of the other U.S. Senate candidates. I am confident our local Woodwards and Bernsteins of the MSM will soon become sidetracked this fall with “the horse race” issues they love to cover so exhaustively. Perhaps, David, Charley, or Bob could ask AG Coakley and the other U.S. Senate candidates their views on this pending federal DNA post-conviction legislation the next time one of our alternative, New Media champions encounters one of them in person or in cyberspace.
Finally, if one of the Blue Mass Group editors encounters Pags, as EB III so endearingly refers to him, on the campaign trail, could that BMG editor ask the Boston Celtics owner why I need to take out a second and unattainable mortgage on my home to take my family of four see the Boston Celtics play at the [Whichever Liquid Bank in the Region Can Afford The Corporate Sponsorship Fee This Year] Garden, unless I accept my family enjoying the athletic view and alcohol-influenced scene from one of the nosebleed sections?