December 3, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Sins of the husband [+video]

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Andy Metzger / State House News Service

PUBLIC LIFE, PRIVATE LIFE: Senate President Stanley Rosenberg waited on the sidewalk Friday afternoon in front of his Beacon Hill condo before a driver took him to the State House, where he gave a press conference about his husband's alleged sexual assaults and interference in Senate business. "This has been the most difficult time in my political life, and in my personal life," Rosenberg said at the presser.

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — The national sexual harassment scandal got a face in Massachusetts last week – the visage of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg’s husband.

All other dealings on Beacon Hill were blocked out like an eclipse by the bombshell report in The Boston Globe that Rosenberg’s husband of one year, Bryon Hefner, had allegedly sexually assaulted at least four men.

Three of the men, who all work in the political arena and shared their stories anonymously, claim that Hefner grabbed their genitals in social settings, sometimes with the Senate president mere feet away. Another alleged that Hefner forcibly kissed him as he bragged about the clout he wielded over a legislative body for which he didn’t work and never served.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who has worked closely with Rosenberg for years, was the first to call for a full investigation hours after the story broke, but he was followed by others, including Rosenberg himself, who gave his blessing for Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, to spearhead a full probe that Rosenberg, who intends to retain his title for now, will recuse himself from.

An Amherst-based Democrat, Rosenberg seemed to be clinging to the edge of a cliff Friday as staff, Chandler and Tarr huddled in the office next to the president’s hashing out a plan to bring on a special investigator to look into the allegations against Hefner, including impacts on Senate operations.

Watch: Rosenberg addresses Hefner accusations

Visibly shaken by the allegations against his husband, Rosenberg faced the cameras roughly 24 hours after Hefner’s alleged transgression were put on public display in what Rosenberg called the “most difficult time” in his political and personal life.

Rosenberg announced in a prepared statement that Hefner would be seeking in-patient treatment for alcohol dependence, and he encouraged anyone with a story to tell to come forward without fear of retribution. The Globe reported the four men were still not ready to take that step, but the door has been opened.

Rosenberg also said he was confident the investigation would show that Hefner had no influence over Senate business. “If Bryon claimed to have influence over my decisions or over the Senate, he should not have said that. It is simply not true,” Rosenberg said.

The only two men to call outright for Rosenberg to resign or step aside as Senate president were Republican candidates for office. U.S. Senate candidate John Kingston and state Senate candidate Dean Tran spoke out on Thursday, while the Democrats running for governor remained silent.

MassGOP followed up Friday with blast emails to local media posing a series of questions that it said Democratic senators should answer, the first being, “Do you still have confidence in him and his leadership of the chamber?” The party also suggested that Rosenberg’s claims of being unaware of his husband’s alleged behavior were “dubious.”

“Democrat Senators have questions to answer about the Senate President’s leadership — given that they have the ability to determine his future. The MassGOP is committed to holding these Democrats accountable on behalf of voters, who deserve answers,” said MassGOP spokesman Terry MacCormack.

The State House may have been lousy with rumors of succession planning and senators angling to fill the void if and when Rosenberg were to step aside, but those senators were adamantly denying the water-cooler talk … for now. Succession talk is not a topic lawmakers usually like to go public with — loyalty playing the role that it does in politics — but there’s a time and a place for everything, and senators appeared to be struggling with that question.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • More on the Hefner harassment accusations
  • Markey on World AIDS Day, McGovern on Russia probe
  • Legislature OKs $2.7 million for pot panel operations
  • Watch: Tarr on Hefner, Rosenberg and what’s next
  • State DAs poised to reverse thousands of tainted convictions

LOOKING AHEAD

Senate mulls timing on Hefner assault investigation

Most senators skip the twice-weekly informal sessions, and it will be interesting to see which senators turn out this week when the Senate could take up a measure outlining its path forward.

State House News Service / file photo

Bryon Hefner, center, at Stan Rosenberg’s 2015 inauguration as Senate president.

Senators occasionally offer public comments during informal sessions, and the Hefner investigation measure seems to rise to the level of formal session material. However, the Senate has already agreed to meet tomorrow in an informal session, where debate and controversial matters are usually not allowed.

“We have a series of reported allegations in the Globe. They’re very serious and we need to consider them in the context of the Massachusetts state Senate, and the investigation will be authorized to do that, assuming that the members agree with what Sen. Chandler and I produce,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said on Friday.

“But there are two things that are important here. One, we want all of the members to know what’s happening before we take action, and two, we want the public to know. And so at this point, we’re in the process of structuring all of this, and we want to make sure that when we have that structure, we’re going to communicate it to everyone and be prepared to take action in terms of launching the investigation.”

Asked if an investigator has been brought on yet, Tarr said, “No, because we need to operate as a body in that respect, and so what Sen. Chandler and I will do is prepare a recommendation for the body, and this is something that involves the entire Senate, and we need to act that way, so we will act hopefully very soon on what is being developed right now.”

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, chairperson of the Senate Ethics Committee, which is charged with considering any violations of rules and questions of conduct of senators, was in Portugal last week and not available for comment.

A LITTLE BIRDIE

Markey on World AIDS Day

McGovern calls for independent probe on Flynn, Russia

NOTED

Legislature budgets $2.7 million for pot panel operations

The Cannabis Control Commission has an executive director, temporary office space, and soon will have the money it needs to build out a legal marijuana market in Massachusetts.

The Legislature on Thursday passed a supplemental budget (H 4052) appropriating $2.7 million for the operations of the CCC and sent it to Gov. Charlie Baker. The amount approved Thursday is less than the $3.6 million in operating funds the CCC had requested in early November, but is expected to satisfy the commission’s needs.

The House and Senate approved the bill during sessions on Thursday.

Lawmakers had already appropriated $2.3 million for the commission, though most of that money remains in a Cannabis Cost Reserve account controlled by the Executive Office of Administration and Finance. The spending bill passed Thursday would give the commission a total of $5 million for fiscal year 2018.

Among the budget line items the CCC requested funding for are $534,167 for the five commissioner salaries, $470,834 for senior agency staff, $665,300 for license application processing and enforcement, and $283,750 for community outreach.

Without the additional appropriation, the CCC would run out of money “sometime in the early part of calendar 2018,” Chairman Steven Hoffman said Tuesday.

The CCC has also requested $3.9 million in capital funds for the remainder of fiscal year 2018, and state Rep. Mark Cusack, R-Braintree, said a decision on the capital funding will be made at a later date.

With its funding for fiscal 2018 in place, the CCC will soon have to embark on a more complete budgeting exercise as it submits its budget request to the administration for all 12 months of fiscal year 2019. State budget writers plan to meet next week to begin the fiscal 2019 budget process, and Baker will file his fiscal 2019 budget proposal in January.

— Colin A. Young

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Tarr talks Hefner, Rosenberg and what’s next

IN THE NEWS

State DAs poised to reverse thousands of tainted convictions

District attorneys from across the state announced they would dismiss convictions involving evidence tainted by former state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak, a number the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts tallied at more than 6,000.

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said he would drop 3,940 district and juvenile court convictions involving samples where Farak, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to tampering with evidence at the Department of Public Health laboratory in Amherst, signed the certificate of analysis. Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan’s office says it filed documents with the state Supreme Judicial Court to drop 1,497 criminal cases involving certificates signed by Farak.

Farak

“The egregious misconduct committed by one rogue chemist at the Amherst Lab shook the very foundation of our criminal justice system, the integrity of which must be preserved at all costs,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Although we have no reason to believe that anyone was wrongfully convicted in the cases being dismissed, it would not be in the best interests of justice to attempt to re-prosecute them.”

According to the ACLU, 241 cases will be dismissed in Worcester County.

The filings and announcements came in response to a Committee for Public Counsel Services and the ACLU petition, which asked the state’s highest court to craft a remedy for Farak’s misconduct.

The organizations held a press conference at the ACLU’s downtown Boston office, where they called for all convictions to be dismissed in the Farak cases.

“Dismissal vindicates the rights of our clients to due process and fair prosecution, and restores the integrity to the justice system by sending a clear message to prosecutors that no conviction will be allowed to stand in the face of such fraud,” said Randy Gioia, deputy chief counsel of the CPCS public-defender division.

Speakers also blasted state prosecutors involved in the cases. Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said some of the suggestions made at the press conference were “false and irresponsible.”

Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office said it intends to dismiss all juvenile and district court cases in which Farak was the chemist, and said a final list of cases would be ready this week. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan agreed to dismiss 238 district court cases and 7 in Superior Court, and Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley indicated he would drop all 134 of his office’s “Farak cases.”

After a January ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court, prosecutors identified 21,839 convictions for dismissal in what the ACLU’s Carol Rose called “similarly disturbing but unrelated” to samples tainted by another former state chemist, Annie Dookhan.

This time, “the scope of misconduct is far worse,” Rose said.

Katie Lannan / State House News Service

Nicole Westcott, who was convicted on drug charges in a case where Sonja Farak served as the state’s chemist, said at an ACLU press conference Thursday that she wants to see prosecutors held accountable for misconduct in her and others’ cases.

“Upon finding out about Ms. Farak’s malfeasance, prosecutors from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office actually misled the courts and the people of Massachusetts about the scope of the scandal,” Rose said. “Worse, when the evidence of tampering came to light, Massachusetts’ elected district attorneys again failed to notify thousands of people who’d been wrongfully convicted by the tainted evidence, until we sued.”

Nicole Westcott, who was convicted in a case where Farak was the state drug lab chemist, said at the press conference that as part of her path to sobriety, she has had to identify the people she wronged and make amends. Westcott said she wants to see prosecutors do the same.

“I want them to be held accountable like I was held accountable,” she said.

— Katie Lannan

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