Prosecutor apologizes to defense attorney he accused of threatening officer
|Published: 03-08-2019 12:19 PM
NORTHAMPTON — First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne on Thursday apologized in writing to a defense attorney he accused of threatening a Northampton police officer last month.
In the initial Feb. 5 letter to Northampton District Court Judge Maureen Walsh, Gagne said that Northampton attorney Dana Goldblatt had been overheard in court by two court officers and an assistant district attorney on Jan. 29 saying that she “wanted to kill” or would “like to kill” Northampton officer Andrew Kohl, who had arrested one of her clients, Eric Matlock. Goldblatt has denied the accusation, and Gagne’s letter included a footnote that the session clerk to whom the statement was allegedly addressed did not recall it.
Gagne also questioned whether Goldblatt should participate in cases involving the Northampton Police Department and Kohl. Gagne’s letter to Walsh was not sent to Goldblatt, but it was sent to other government officials.
But in a March 7 letter, Gagne both walked back his previous statements and apologized for sending the earlier letter.
“I am writing to apologize for the unnecessary and avoidable harm my February 5, 2019 letter to Judge Walsh has caused you,” Gagne wrote in his Thursday letter to Goldblatt. “I also apologize for the statements in my letter that were or could have been deemed to be an accusation that you threatened Officer Kohl. It is clear you did not threaten Officer Kohl.”
Gagne went on to say that reaching out to Goldblatt directly or contacting the director of the Hampshire County Bar Advocate program would have been a better course of action and would have allowed the alleged Jan. 29 incident to be addressed in private.
“This would have been a far less contentious approach, and more in keeping with the close-knit community of lawyers in Hampshire County with whom we strive to foster a culture of collegiality and mutual respect,” the letter reads.
Gagne declined to comment on the record for this story.
When asked for her reaction to Gagne’s letter, Goldblatt said, “I accept his apology.”
She also said she will not be taking legal or professional action against Gagne in the wake of his apology.
“I think we can all put this behind us,” Goldblatt said.
In his letter to Goldblatt, Gagne also apologized for questioning her ability to represent clients in cases involving the Northampton Police Department.
“I regret that my actions in writing the letter to the presiding justice of the Northampton District Court have been perceived as an attempt to interfere with the administration of justice, or to retaliate against you for criticizing the police,” Gagne writes. “That was not my intention.”
Gagne also said that senior management in the district attorney’s office has “agreed to create and implement an internal protocol” that will review such letters in the future, both in terms of their content and to whom they are sent.
Gagne told Goldblatt that he has withdrawn his original letter to Walsh and asked that no further action be taken. He also said that he has filed a motion to withdraw from a case involving Matlock and that he will no longer have a supervisory role over legal matters against Goldblatt’s clients in Northampton District Court.
Gagne concluded by requesting a meeting with Goldblatt to reiterate what he said in the letter and to talk with her and the Hampshire County Bar Advocate program regarding how future situations could be resolved.
Gagne’s Feb. 5 letter was criticized by a number of members of the legal community, both because of its content and because they alleged it was ex parte communication. Ex parte refers to one-sided communication between a judge or juror and a party in a legal case when the other party is not present.
Marissa Elkins, president of the board of the Hampshire County Bar Advocate program, said in a letter to Walsh that Goldblatt’s alleged actions did not rise to the level of misconduct and accused Gagne of violating the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct.
In a Thursday statement, Elkins said, “We are relieved for attorney Goldblatt and her clients present and future that she has been fully exonerated of any alleged wrongdoing, misconduct or unprofessional conduct.”
Goldblatt and her attorney, Howard Cooper, credited Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan for his role in resolving the matter.
“He apologized. He expressed the desire of his office to have a good professional relationship with defense counsel,” Cooper said.
Cooper also said that Goldblatt has not waived her right to take other actions.
Sullivan said Thursday that Gagne’s original letter “wasn’t measured.” He said his office would establish an ethics panel to review complaints against DA employees and defense attorneys. He also said it would hold an ethics training.
“Hopefully this situation doesn’t happen again,” Sullivan said. “It’s time for us to move on and learn from errors of judgment.”
Bera Dunau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.