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High Crimes and Misdemeanors: Former AG Disbarred

By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

The Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court finished out the month of August by disbarring a former assistant attorney general named Anne Kaczmarek. The disbarment of a prosecutor for failing to turn over evidence that could have exonerated defendants was all but unprecedented in Massachusetts. The lack of precedent may have contributed to the nearly decadelong delay between the infractions in question and Kaczmarek's disbarment. It's a strange story from start to finish, and it gives new meaning to the saying "the coverup is worse than the crime."

Say Yes to Drugs

Sonja Farak was a forensic chemist at a state drug lab. It was her job to test samples of illegal drugs as part of the state's cases against people suspected of drug-related crimes. Unfortunately for her — and for Massachusetts' justice system — Farak wasn't as interested in testing the samples as she was in sampling them herself. She had her hands (and nose) on thousands of pieces of evidence during her eight-year tenure at the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory, and later admitted that she had been under the influence during much of her time in the laboratory.

Farak's work, testing, and testimony formed the cornerstone of thousands of criminal drug cases brought by the state. That's thousands of men and women who may have been improperly convicted, each and every one of whom suddenly had a very strong argument for dismissing their cases entirely. It didn't take long for organizations including the ACLU and the Massachusetts public defender agency to cry foul.

Farak pleaded guilty to stealing drugs from the lab and earned herself an 18-month prison sentence for her trouble.

Some 7,690 drug cases were eventually dismissed outright as a result of Farak's eight-year binge. It's a stunning figure, and one that's second only to the jaw-dropping 21,000 criminal drug cases that were dismissed around the same time because of the involvement of another state chemist named Annie Dookhan. Hopefully, Massachusetts has started doing more in-depth background checks for their chemists nowadays.

Crime, Meet Coverup

Here's where our disbarred former AAG comes back into the picture.

Anne Kaczmarek was put in charge of prosecuting Farak's case at the behest of former AG Martha Coakley. Kaczmarek was the person in charge of handling the evidence, making the case, and figuring out just how many cases Farak's misconduct had put into jeopardy.

The Board of Bar Overseers (BBO) released their recommendation that Kaczmarek be disbarred in 2022. Its memorandum read, in part: "[Kaczmarek] actively misled others in the AGO [attorney general's office] and the district attorneys," and that "her primary motivation appears to have been to contain the damage" caused by Farak's misdeeds. Kaczmarek and her attorneys maintain that she did not conceal any evidence, and that all the allegations against her are unfounded.

Kaczmarek's case fell apart quite suddenly. Police searched Farak's car after her 2013 arrest and found a few "mental health worksheets" that documented her drug use in the lab. The sheets told a different — and much longer — story than Kaczmarek's office initially let on.

It took some time for the worksheets to be rediscovered, this time by a defense attorney who represented several of the people convicted in part thanks to evidence Farak had tested. By then Kaczmarek had effectively left hundreds, even thousands of people to languish in prison for crimes that may have been fabricated by someone struggling with addiction.

Disbarment is the harshest punishment the state could inflict on Kaczmarek for attempting to sweep the situation under the rug. It's anyone's guess why she felt the need to knowingly withhold evidence that could have set people free, but the authorities have spent nearly a decade establishing that she did so. Maybe she felt like it would reflect poorly on her or the attorney general's office. Maybe she just didn't feel like taking on more work. Only Kaczmarek herself knows, and she still maintains that she did nothing wrong.

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