Shame on the Justice Dept. For Screwing Families in Boston Murder Cases

Whitey Bulger
By Allan Lengel

The U.S. Justice Department can feel proud that an appeals court Thursday essentially upheld its right to screw the families whose relatives were allegedly murdered by Boston gangster James J. “Whitey’’ Bulger.

Bulger was working as an FBI informant and running wild, and a Boston federal judge back in 2009 awarded the families nearly $8.5 million, saying the government was negligent when it essentially let informant Bulger — under its watch — get away with murder. Bulger was linked to the 1982 murders of Michael Donahue and Edward “Brian’’ Halloran, who were both gunned down on the Boston waterfront in 1982.

In February, an Appeals Court panel ruled 2-1 to vacate the award,  agreeing with the Justice Department, which argued that the families had not filed their claims for damages in time.  The Boston Globe reported on Thursday that the Appeals Court ruled 3-3 on the matter, letting stand the 2-1 decision.

Congratulations to the Justice Department. Yes, it was legally right.  Ethically and morally, it was very very wrong. But in Washington, winning is often more important than doing the right thing.

Interestingly, the court said in its ruling, according to the Globe: “Under the Constitution, federal courts may not make decisions based on sympathy. The legal issue presented by these cases is not whether the conduct of the FBI was shameful; it was. It is not whether plaintiffs are victims of that conduct; they are.’’

Perhaps the dissenting opinion from Judge Juan R. Torruella put it best:

“James ‘Whitey’ Bulger has finally been apprehended and is now being haled into the federal courthouse in Boston to answer for the crimes he allegedly committed years ago. But, unlike Bulger himself, thanks to the panel majority’s decision and the full court’s refusal to reverse it, Bulger’s most trusted associate, the Boston FBI office, has gotten away with murder.’’

One lawyer for the  family told the Globe that he would try to convince the Supreme Court to take up the appeal. I don’t think it’s likely to take up the case since there’s no great legal precedent here; just a matter of right and wrong.

The Justice Department should have simply paid out the money. But nooo.

Yes, the Justice Department has good lawyers. And yes, they won. But winning isn’t always everything, particularly when the Justice Department looks like the real loser here.


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