A justified decision

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Once again, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe is not taking seriously the ethical lapses of one of his employees, in particular, and his office, in general.

Two weeks ago, the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers decided that assistant district attorney Laura Marshard should face a one-month suspension and take a board-sanctioned ethics course. It was a rare instance where the full board decided the panel that heard the case was wrong in recommending only a public reprimand.

In a footnote in the decision, the full board took issue with a stipulated agreement between Marshard’s attorney and bar counsel, particularly that a public statement be approved by the board and issued “verbatim.” We’re not sure why bar counsel agreed to that, or why Marshard’s attorney had the arrogance to request it, but clearly the full board was having none of that nonsense.

Why? Because Marshard lied. She misled a judge. She violated the trust that is put in her as someone to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It’s particularly important because what she did, by meeting with a potential witness, put him in jeopardy of incriminating himself.

Judge Richard J. Chin was right when he said what Marshard did wasn’t a momentary lapse, but “a persistent course of conduct to prejudice the defendant” — someone Marshard wanted to lock up by misusing her power.

If not for clerk magistrate Liza Williamson walking in on Marshard’s devious meeting with the witness, she might have gotten away with it.

Back to O’Keefe. The elected district attorney for the Cape and Islands has refused to answer any questions about the board decision, even though he is answerable to the people of Dukes, Barnstable, and Nantucket counties. His spokesman, Tara Miltimore, initially gave the absurd excuse that O’Keefe was attending a conference for district attorneys and had not yet read the decision, but would comment once he had spoken to Marshard and her attorney.

Really? It was 10 pages, and written in plain language that eviscerated the practices not only of Marshard, but O’Keefe’s office. We find it hard to believe he had not read it in the four days after it was released.

A few days later, Miltimore was giving a new party line. This time she issued a press release on O’Keefe’s behalf announcing an ethics workshop. In it, she quoted O’Keefe saying, “The recent experience of a member of my staff with the Board of Bar Overseers inspired the idea for this seminar.”

The Times called O’Keefe’s office with questions, but instead the call was transferred to Miltimore, an assistant district attorney who was hired by O’Keefe, not elected to represent the people of Dukes, Barnstable, and Nantucket counties. This time she said that the office would only be issuing the press release, and would have no further comment until the case is “resolved.”

Resolved? What else do you need to know? The recommendation will go before a single justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. It’s very unlikely that the SJC will go against that recommendation, which is well evidenced.

In his press release, O’Keefe invites other attorneys in the three counties for the ethics refresher sponsored by his office. Instead of making this about his office and what needs to be corrected there, his press release might leave you with the impression that he thinks ethical lapses are widespread among attorneys on the Cape and Islands.

To the contrary, the defense attorneys at Edgartown District Court — including Robb and Tim Moriarty, whom O’Keefe has previously singled out — did the right thing after Williamson brought Marshard’s professional misconduct to their attention.

Marshard, through her attorney, has finally taken responsibility for her actions, and said that she respects the decision of the Board of Bar Overseers.

O’Keefe could learn something from his employee. He has done nothing but disrespect the process. He allowed Marshard, in her defense, to cast innuendo on the Edgartown District Courthouse employees and the defense attorneys who work there. O’Keefe himself, in a previous statement when Marshard was originally found guilty of misconduct, took a shot at the Moriarty brothers in what amounts to passing the buck, rather than the buck stopping with him.

As we pointed out in a previous editorial, O’Keefe owes a public apology to Williamson, the Moriartys, and the people of Dukes County. He should look within to see why one of his assistant district attorneys, Sharon Thibeault, a supervisor, did nothing after she was warned about Marshard’s “win at all costs” methods, which have now been described as unethical.

Fortunately, the truth has won out.

O’Keefe gets away with this behavior because we — the voters of Dukes, Barnstable, and Nantucket counties — let him. He’s elected, and has rarely faced a challenge, and when he has, those candidates were weak or flawed in their own right. It’s time for someone to step forward and challenge O’Keefe to restore integrity in the Cape and Islands district attorney’s office.