MBA, others respond to special counsel’s report on OUI cases

Issue December 2012 By Tricia M. Oliver

On Nov. 1, the special counsel's report summarizing a year-long study on jury-waived OUI acquittals in Massachusetts was presented to the Supreme Judicial Court. The SJC appointed Jack Cinquegrana to examine the issue following a 2011 three-part spotlight series in The Boston Globe that showcased high acquittal rates in such cases. Following the release of Cinquegrana's report, the bar and others responded.

The Massachusetts Bar Association, having a long history of advocating for and supporting an impartial justice system that protects the rights of all involved, was one of the first groups to weigh in.

In a issued statement on Nov. 1, MBA's Committee on Fair and Impartial Courts Chair Thomas Hoopes said, "The special counsel's report to the Supreme Judicial Court demonstrates that overall the Massachusetts courts are treating OUI cases in line with that of other states. While drunk driving cases are a serious matter, judges must remain independent and be provided the freedom to decide individual cases based on the weight of the evidence before them and the unique circumstances of each particular case."

Hoopes said that regarding the high bench trial acquittal rates of certain judges, the report correctly cautions against drawing any adverse conclusions about those individual justices. Rather, as identified by the report, evidentiary barriers and other systemic factors may contribute to those elevated rates.

According to Martin W. Healy, the MBA's chief legal counsel and chief operating officer, the MBA will continue to examine the report's recommendations and work with court and legislative leaders to ensure that the independence of the judicial system is preserved.

Much of the Globe's 2011 spotlight series focused on the OUI acquittal rates of specific District Court judges. Following news of the special counsel report, District Court Chief Justice Lynda M. Connolly said, "I am pleased that the report acknowledges the integrity of the court and the importance of judicial independence . . .The report and the justices strongly caution against basing any evaluation of a judge or a court on statistics that measure only case outcomes. The justices make it clear:  there is no correct number of convictions or acquittals in any case type."

Connolly vowed to work on systemic issues identified by the report through collaboration with the SJC, Trial Court and others.

Echoing the sentiments of Chief Justice Connolly, a portion of the statement of Massachusetts Judges Conference President James G. Collins read, "We shall advance the cause of justice for the people by defending the rule of law and shall have the courage to carry out the rule of law by making decisions based solely on the facts and the law -- not scorecards or batting averages."