On May 4, 2017, Public Defender Division Staff Attorney Rebecca Jacobstein received the Massachusetts Bar Association’s 2017 Access to Justice Defender Award for her work on behalf of clients affected by the misconduct of a state drug lab chemist in Western Massachusetts.
Rebecca and her husband and mother were present at the MBA Annual Dinner to receive the Award.
Congratulations Rebecca. Thank you for the work you do for our clients.
You can listen to a podcast of Rebecca discussing her work on the fallout from the drug lab scandal HERE.
Here is a photograph of Rebecca receiving the award from MBA President Joseph Catalano.
2017 Access to Justice Award Winner: Rebecca Jacobstein
Here is the text of the nominating letter.
We nominate Attorney Rebecca A. Jacobstein of the Committee for Public Counsel Services for 2016-2017 Massachusetts Bar Association Access to Justice Award – Defender Award.
Attorney Jacobstein is a CPCS staff attorney in the Appeals Unit of the Public Defender Division.
For the last three years, she has been relentless in the pursuit of justice for her clients and thousands of other people affected by the Sonja Farak Amherst Drug Lab scandal.
Sonja Farak was a chemist in the Department of Public Health’s State Laboratory in Amherst, Massachusetts. Ms. Farak apparently suffered from a drug addiction while employed as a drug analyst at the Amherst Lab. She was convicted of stealing and tampering with drugs at the lab. An investigation, conducted by the Massachusetts Attorney General, has revealed that Ms. Farak routinely was high on drugs during her working hours at the drug lab. As a result of Ms. Farak’s misconduct, many people have been convicted of crimes and sent to prison. Initially, it was believed that Sonja Farak’s misconduct only affected a small number of cases. Now, as a result of Rebecca Jacobstein’s work (together with Northampton attorney Luke Ryan), we know that it is likely that Ms. Farak’s misconduct occurred over the course of many years and affected thousands of people.
In 2014, Attorney Jacobstein had just begun working as a staff attorney in the CPCS Public Defender Division Appeals Unit. The Chief of the Appeals Unit assigned Attorney Jacobstein to represent, on direct appeal, two men who had been convicted of drug related crimes in which Sonja Farak conducted the chemical analysis: Erick Cotto and Jermaine Watt. In the Cotto case, Attorney Jacobstein obtained direct appellate review in the Supreme Judicial Court. The Cotto case turned out to be a watershed in the litigation involving the Amherst Drug Lab. On April 8, 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion calling for a full investigation into the scope and timing of Farak’s misconduct. Commonwealth v. Cotto, 471 Mass. 97 (2015). After the decision in Cotto, the Attorney General’s Office appointed former Superior Court Judge Peter Velis as a Special Assistant Attorney General to conduct the investigation.
Meanwhile, in the Watt case, in which direct appellate review was denied, Attorney Jacobstein stayed the appeal and brought a series of motion in the Superior Court seeking to document the timing and scope of Farak’s misconduct. The efforts of Attorneys Jacobstein and Ryan were described in Slate:
Two defense attorneys, Luke Ryan and Rebecca Jacobstein, subpoenaed
Farak’s medical records to see if their clients had been affected, and found
that her drug use and theft had extended all the way back to 2004, eight
full years before the state claimed it began. They contend that this new
evidence warrants a review of all 29,000 samples Farak claimed to have
tested during her career. They also claim the government concealed this
“smoking gun” evidence from defense attorneys.
Dahlia Lithwick, Crime Lab Scandals Just Keep Getting Worse, Slate (Oct. 29, 2015).
On April 1, 2016, the Attorney General’s Office released its report on the scope and timing of Farak’s misconduct. The report described serious and significant misconduct on the part of Farak, beginning in late 2004 or early 2005 and lasting until Farak’s arrest in January, 2013.
At a hearing in Hampden Superior Court on June 6, 2016, Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless, the President of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, stated that all eleven District Attorneys agreed that Farak defendants were entitled to the same conclusive presumption of misconduct furnished to defendants affected by Annie Dookhan’s misconduct in the case of Commonwealth v. Scott, 467 Mass. 336 (2014).
A second report, conducted by retired Judge Velis concluded that there was “no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct or obstruction of justice” in matters related to the Farak case. Attorney Jacobstein and her colleagues have submitted documents and affidavits that challenge that conclusion. They have filed motions to dismiss Farak convictions based on prosecutorial misconduct. Evidentiary hearings into the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and the scope and effect of Farak’s wrongdoing on thousands of tainted convictions will begin on December 12, 2016, in Hampden Superior Court. These hearings have the potential to reveal prosecutorial misconduct and lead to the reversal of thousands of tainted drug convictions. These hearings are happening, in large part, because of the outstanding legal work of Attorney Jacobstein, who took her early assignment to two direct appeals and turned it into a zealous pursuit of justice for thousands of people.