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Joseph Deignan vs. Watertown Retirement Board




Thomas F Gibson, Esq.

2400 Massachusetts Ave.

Framingham District Court

600 Concord Street
Framingham, MA 01702

Cambridge, MA 02140

Trial Court of Massachusetts

District Court Department



The Court has made the following docket entry in this case.

See Ruling On Petition For Judicial Review

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June 17, 2015



John A Deluca

Date/Time Pnnted. 06 -17 -2015 09.21 21



NO. 1449CV0062



This petition of judicial review came before the court pursuant to G.L. c. 32, 16(3)(a),
after the Watertown Retirement Board (WRB) determined that Joseph Deignan's retirement
allowance must be forfeited after he pleaded guilty to several drug charges in federal court. For
the following reasons, the decision of the WRB is reversed.

The Court briefly summarizes the facts found by the WRB, which are not significantly
contested and which are supported by exhibits accompanying the findings.
Joseph Deignan was a Watertown police officer who retired on February 14, 2012, after
thirty-two years of service. During his tenure as a police officer, he attained the rank of sergeant.
He retired as the supervisor of the Watertown Police Department's Traffic Division. On
December 12, 2012, Marlborough, Massachusetts police officers arrested Deignan at a CVS
pharmacy in that city for uttering a false prescription, forgery of a document, and obtaining a
drug by fraud. On March 3, 2013, a special agent of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) filed a
criminal complaint in the United States District Court alleging violations of21 U.S.C.

843(a)(3) (unlawful possession of a controlled substance by fraud) and 18 U.S. C. 1028(a)(7)

(fraud in connection with identification documents). On June 28, 2013, a two-count Information
was filed in the U.S. District Court, alleging that between May of2010 and December 7, 2012,
(1) Deignan knowingly and intentionally obtained drugs by fraud, and that (2) he knowingly and
intentionally used the identification of another person to obtain such controlled substances.
On June 16, 2012, Deignan, represented by counsel, pleaded guilty to these criminal
violations before Judge Douglas P. Woodlock at the U.S. District Court in Boston. During the
plea colloquy, Deignan acknowledged the following facts that are relevant to the issue in this
present action: in March of 2010, a Watertown police officer had stopped a motorist ("GC") for
a traffic violation and had seized GC's suspended driver's license; per standard practice, this
license and an accompanying police report were then turned over to Deignan, who was then
serving as Traffic Supervisor; beginning in May of2010 and ending on December 7, 2012,
Deignan forged over one hundred prescriptions and used GC's confiscated license to fill those
false prescriptions at various CVS and Walgreen's pharmacies; Deignan paid cash for the
prescriptions, and the total value of the drugs obtained was approximately $10,000; GC's license
was found in the front seat of Deignan's vehicle when officers arrested him in Marlborough.
The Court notes that there were no allegations that Deignan sold the drugs that he
obtained. By all accounts, Deignan used the drugs to feed a personal addiction to prescription
pain medications. There is no evidence that any of these illegal activities occurred while he was
on duty as a police officer.
On November 13, 2013, the defendant was sentenced to ninety days in prison, a $10,000
fine, and probation. In its findings the WRB noted Judge Woodlock's remark at sentencing that


Deignan violated a "public trust" and that he "us[ed] the office itself and access to the coercive
powers that the office has to obtain material that can then be used for illegal activity." (WRB
Findings at 7; Sentencing Transcript at 13-14).
The WRB determined that because Deignan, as an on-duty Watertown police officer, took
and used GC's driver's license to commit his crimes, there was a direct link between his criminal
activity and his role as a Watertown police officer. Consequently, the WRB concluded,
Deignan's pension must be forfeited. That is the narrow issue that is the subject of this appeal.

This matter is governed by G.L. c. 32, 15(4), which provides that "in no event shall any
member 1 after final conviction of a criminal offense involving violation of the laws applicable to
his office or position be entitled to receive a retirement allowance under provisions of section
one to twenty-eight, inclusive .... " Any member of a state retirement system aggrieved by an
adverse decision of a retirement board may appeal to the district court for review, and the district
court in tum reviews the board's decision to determine if it was "justified." G.L. c. 32, 16(3(a).
If the decision is justified, the board's decision must be affirmed. Otherwise, it must be reversed.
Id. In determining whether the board's decision was justified, this Court must determine whether
there was a "direct link" between the member's criminal offense and his or her office or position.
Retirement Board of Somerville v. Buonomo, 467 Mass. 662, 668 (2014); Gaffney v.
Contributory Retirement Appeals Board, 423 Mass. 1, 5 (1996). "Because G.L. c. 32, 15,
involves the forfeiture of property, it is penal in nature," and therefore its limits must be drawn

"Member" is defined in G.L. c. 32, 1 and essentially includes any state or municipal
employee who contributes to a retirement system.

narrowly, "so as to not exceed the scope or reach of the penalty as contemplated by the
Legislature." Gamey v. Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System, 469 Mass. 384, 389
The Court concludes that the WRB was not justified in forfeiting Deignan's pension,
because the facts do not demonstrate an essential "direct link" between the crimes to which
Deignan pleaded guilty and his position as a police officer. See Gamey 469 Mass. at 387. The
link between Deignan's use of the confiscated license and his position as a police officer is de
minimis. See id. While it is true that Deignan obtained the confiscated license while serving as
Traffic Supervisor at the Watertown Police Department, the Court cannot conclude that, but for
Deignan's position as a police officer, he would not have had the ability to fraudulently obtain
false prescriptions. See id. At 389. Deignan was not on duty as a Watertown police officer or
acting in his official capacity as a police officer at the time of his crimes. Nor did he use his
authority as a police officer to obtain the drugs or use the "coercive powers" of his office to
obtain the license used to buy drugs. (Sentencing Transcript at 13-14). Additionally, there were
no allegations that Deignan sold the drugs that he obtained. Instead, Deignan used the drugs to
feed a personal addiction to prescription pain medications.
The Court might conclude otherwise if there was evidence that Deignan himself seized
the license of an unsuspecting motorist for the sole purpose of using it to obtain prescription
drugs fraudulently. That did not happen here. Another officer seized a suspended license, and
while that license was still in the Watertown Police Department's possession, Deignan took it
and used it to buy prescription drugs. There was nothing "coercive" about this conduct. Rather,

it was a desperate act of a drug addict who happened to be a police officer.

It is true, as Judge Woodlock pointed out, that Deignan violated the public trust placed in

police officers to enforce and uphold the law. However, G.L. c. 32 15(4) requires something
more than a violation of public trust in the particular public position. See Gamey, 469 Mass. at
393. The reach ofG.L. c. 32 15(4) is not so broad as to encompass all considerations of a
police officer's general obligation to protect the public. Indeed, virtually every criminal
conviction of a police officer puts in question the soundness of the police officer's moral
character and fitness for the position. Compare Gamey, 469 Mass. at 394. Deignan's actions
here clearly merit criminal prosecution and punishment, but they do not justify the forfeiture of
his pension.
For the reasons set forth above, the decision of the WRB is reversed.