Attorney General Martha Coakley meets the press.

Credit: Adam Reilly / WGBH

Martha's Choice: What Will Coakley Do Next?

December 12, 2012

Shortly after her office's prosecution of former state treasurer Tim Cahill ended in a mistrial, attorney general Martha Coakley strode briskly to the podium in her office downtown and said — in effect — that she'd do it all again. 

"I believe that our office has done the right thing by bringing this case," Coakley announced. "I believe that our trial team worked incredibly hard, and fairly and well.... I continue to believe in the strength of this case and the strength of our justice system. And we our reviewing our options going forward." 

Those options including taking another crack at prosecuting Cahill for  alleged criminal misuse of public funds — or, conversely, letting the deadlocked jury and mistrial become the final word in the case. This afternoon, Coakley said she and her team will make that determination in the next few weeks.

But Coakley also stressed that, today's outcome notwithstanding, she still thinks the evidence strongly suggests Cahill broke the law, by using $1.5 million in state Lottery funds to advance his doomed independent bid for governor in 2010. And she added that — if alleged misdeeds like Cahill's don't prompt vigorous legal action — the consequences for Massachusetts will be grim. 

"I believe," Coakley explained, "that the only way we will change things in this Commonwealth is to be willing to bring cases of public corruption when we believe we have the evidence."

The question now is how hard Coakley wants to push to effect that change. Even before today's mistrial, Coakley had been accused of prosecuting Cahill frivolously, of picking on him because he left the Democratic Party, of overreaching to bolster her own political prospects. (Among other things, Coakley is considered a possible Democratic candidate for governor in 2014.)

Perhaps Coakley's defiant comments were meant, above all, to quash those allegations of bad faith. If so, Coakley may be willing to let Cahill's mistrial stand without attempting another prosecution with no guarantee of success.

But while a second failed prosecution could damage public perception of the Attorney General's office, and tarnish Coakley's political brand beyond repair, it may not be as far fetched as many observers have suggested. Today, Coakley made it clear that despite the deadlocked jury, she believes the law is on her side — and that her broader cause is just. 

Cahill is due back in court on January 4 for a status hearing, and Coakley suggested today that her office will make a decision on whether to retry his case by then. Nearly every political pundit in Boston expects that the answer will be no. But based on her remarks this afternoon, it just might be yes.

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