An interesting defamation case is proceeding against Deval Patrick

There was an interesting story in the Boston Globe recently about how former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is being sued in a defamation case. It’s a bit of a complicated story made all the more complicated by the confusing way in which it was written up. Here’s apparently what happened:

  • Back in 1993, Deval Patrick’s brother-in-law (Bernard Sigh) was estranged from Deval Patrick’s sister Rhonda in California. During that estrangement he was charged with and convicted of “spousal rape,” an offense that has no corollary in Massachusetts. He spent a few month in jail after the conviction.
  • In 1995 Sigh and Rhonda Patrick reconciled and moved to Massachusetts.
  • In 2006, during Deval’s 1st run for Governor, the Boston Herald reported that Bernard Sigh had failed to register as a sex offender in Massachusetts.[1]
  • In 2006, Patrick was elected Governor, beginning his term in January of 2007. Shortly thereafter, he appointed
  • Shortly after his becoming governor, Patrick appointed Saundra Edwards to be the head of the
  • The question subsequently went to an administrative hearing before the Sex Offender Registry Board in Massachusetts, whether California’s “spousal rape” was more like a “rape” (MGL c. 265, §22), requiring life-time registration, or more like an “indecent assault and battery” (MGL c. 265, §13H), which is a much less serious offense.
  • The hearing officer, Attilio “A.J.” Paglia[2] decided that the most analogous offense was the aforementioned “indecent assault and battery,” which did not require Bernard Sigh to register a decade later in Massachusetts.
  • The Board ’ s lawyer had ordered Paglia to hold off on a decision while the Board sought the opinion of the Attorney General’ s office. But Paglia held the hearing and issued his decision, for which he reprimanded for insubordination and demoted.
  • In December of 2008, Paglia filed a whistle-blower suit, documenting messages in which his supervisors had tried to influence him to change his decision and claiming they had retaliated against him in his job for failing to do so.[3]
  • In April of 2014, Paglia settled his suit against the Sex Offender Registry Board for $60,000. While the Board, as is typical in a settlement, denied any wrongdoing, the settlement speaks for itself, and apparently includes both back pay and emotional distress.
  • In September of 2014, a few months before his term was over, Patrick dismissed both Saundra Edwards and Executive Director Jeanne Holmes. At the time he cited a number of things, including an “unproductive working environment,” the Board’s failure to update its regulations since 2002, and its loss of several cases before the Supreme Judicial Court.[4] But he also explicitly cited the mishandling of the case of his brother in law.[5]
  • In January 2015, just a few days before Patrick left office, Saundra Edwards filed suit against him, alleging, among other things, that the Governor’s comments about her were defamatory and made with malice.
  • Patrick sought to have the case dismissed on the theory that his comments were “absolutely privileged.” It is this assertion that the Court rejected last week.[6]

In any case, it should be interesting to follow the outcome of this case. Deval Patrick left office very well-regarded, and is probably on the short list of everything from a potential Supreme Court nominee to Vice Presidential candidate. Although he lost his effort to get the case dismissed, he is likely to prevail on the merits of a case like this if it goes to trial. It would be very hard to prove that what the Governor said was absolutely false or that it was said with malice.

[1] This became not only something of a campaign issue at the time, but also part of a disagreement between the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. The Governor also again expressed his anger at the disclosures about his brother-in-law and sister back in 2006 to reporters, saying, “the Republican Party, sorry to say, aided by the Herald, nearly destroyed their lives.” 

[2] In another odd twist, Paglia is now serving as chief of staff to Republican Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.

[3] Paglia claimed the administration was pressuring him to crack down on the Governor ’ s relative, rather than relieve him of responsibility. In addition he alleged that there were multiple cases for which Paglia wrote decisions that were not sent out, and that Paglia eventually had to quit on a theory of “constructive discharge.”

[4] In December of 2013, the SJC ruled in Doe v. SORB reversing a classification decision and finding that SORB guidelines for classifying offenders were out-of-date and last updated 11 years ago

[5] It is a little unusual to dismiss an agency head just a few months before the end of a gubernatorial term.

[6] Government officials normally have at least a “qualified” immunity from prosecution or civil litigation. So, for example, a legislator cannot be sued for legislation he or she proposes; a judge cannot be sued over a decision that he or she writes; and an executive official like a Governor cannot ordinarily be sued for policy decisions that they make.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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