You Can Take the Judiciary Out of O'Flaherty, But Not the O'Flaherty Out of Judiciary

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

“I think he (Rep. Eugene L. O’Flaherty) does a very good job…I think he certainly knows the material so well, and I think he is very serious about needing to hear both sides of an issue.”
                -Senator Cynthia S. Creem, Co-Chair, Judiciary Committee

Everyone has a breaking point.  Everyone.

Gene O’Flaherty, the tough-as-nails state rep who co-chairs the joint House-Senate Judiciary Committee, got to that point last month when the Boston Globe suggested he was coddling sex criminals who “murder children’s souls.”

Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, writing on a bill that would remove the statute of limitations on sexual abuse crimes against minors, said, “There is a general consensus that there should be no statute of limitations for murder, and the law reflects that.  There is a growing consensus that there should be no arbitrary hiding place for those who murder children’s souls by sexually abusing them.  That consensus does not include Gene O’Flaherty.”

That column was published Tuesday, March 20.  The next morning, O’Flaherty sent an e-mail to Cullen saying, “Your article, and its depiction of me as unconcerned about the ‘murder of children’s souls,’ has resonated with me since I first read it.  So much so that I will be resigning my Judiciary Committee chairmanship after I complete the important work assigned to me this session.”

O’Flaherty’s message to Cullen also said, “To be googled and to have such a depiction of me is very unfortunate, but thankfully my family and constituents know me to be someone that cares deeply about children and their safety…I hope in the future you take the time to realize how indeed the pen is more powerful than the sword and how hurtful it can be to individuals and their families.”

It’s hard to see how O’Flaherty can backtrack now on a decision made so publicly.  There will almost certainly be a new House chairman of Judiciary next January.

Will the legislature be a better place when that happens?  I don’t think so.  Will the citizens of Massachusetts be better off, will they somehow gain more protections, more freedoms, more privileges under the law, when that happens?  NO.

Nobody who is concerned about the rights of the individual in our judicial system and the tremendous power of the state to impoverish and destroy an accused individual, guilty or not, should be pleased to see O’Flaherty walk away from Judiciary.  He is a champion of individual rights, and of the rights of all individuals, not just those who are lovable, popular or attractive.

During the decade he’s served as Judiciary co-chair, O’Flaherty has often been criticized by advocates for one bill or another because the committee was holding up that bill.  Since he is an attorney with a successful, private law practice, O’Flaherty’s critics have not hesitated to say he was opposing their favorite legislation because its enactment would hurt his ability to make money as a lawyer. His critics, of course, have never been able to show an actual connection between O’Flaherty’s actions in the legislature and his actions in a law office or courtroom.

O’Flaherty has been accused at various times of being the obstacle to the passage of bills cracking down on drunk drivers, making human trafficking a crime, eliminating parole for habitual offenders, and prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or gender expression.  And these are just a few examples. 

Coming from the Chelsea school of hardball politics and possessed of a made-for-battle temperament, O’Flaherty never seemed to have a problem brushing aside the criticism. Until now.

One may conclude that the sudden shock of being labeled soft on sex criminals prompted O’Flaherty’s decision to step aside. It’s more likely, however, that the accumulated weight of unfair and personal attacks through the years got to be too much, a burden no longer worth carrying. The Cullen opinion piece was just the final straw.

“You can endure stuff for a few years,” O’Flaherty told the State House News Service, “but the continuous assault, if you will, on your own personal standing, on who you are, etcetera, it seems that it’s become quite fashionable to say that the only reason things aren’t moving is because of me.  That has taken its toll on me personally, when I have become the subject of attacks that I believe are unfair.  Many of these matters are complex.  Many of these matters don’t take into consideration that there are many, many reasons why some pieces of legislation move and others don’t.”

As Judiciary co-chair, O’Flaherty had to take the heat for decisions that were either the preference of persons above him in House leadership or the publicly unacknowledged consensus of the House membership, or both.  He was the guy who “took one for the team” by stepping in front of the cameras and explaining why a bill everyone seemed to clamoring for had not cleared Judiciary.

In a February 2011 interview with the State House News Service, O’Flaherty was quite candid about his role as a kind of legislative Dr. No.  “If a bill leaves this committee, then it’s been, in my opinion, vetted according to a strict protocol that I have, which in some cases doesn’t have much to do with the extraneous influences on me,” he said.  “I’ve learned to operate and to withstand those types of scrutinies that are brought my way on a number of levels by folks that are putting pressure on me to get their bills passed and hoping by that type of pressure on me that I may not have as many legitimate or good faith objections as to how it’s written.  I think the Speaker has me here because of my ability to do that.”

Oh, ye who yearn for a looser hand on the tiller of Judiciary, mark these words, “I think the Speaker has me here because of my ability to do that.”  And do not be surprised when the next person in the job starts sounding and acting an awful lot like a certain Irishman from Chelsea.

1 comment:

A. Browne said...

Well said. It is hoped that in a cooler mood the Chairman will realize that his actions outsay the journalists daily column.

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