Limited Taxation

The Wall Street Journal
Monday, April 2, 2001

Review & Outlook
Mr. Cellucci's Ambassadorship

Word has it that this week's confirmation hearings for Massachusetts' Governor Paul Cellucci, nominated for the post of Ambassador to Canada, will be trouble-free and that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is likely to pass it quickly. That may be, but before this fast-track nomination whizzes past the Senators and Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, a close look at Mr. Cellucci's conduct as Governor might be in order.

We are thinking, in particular, of the Governor's altogether telling evasions of responsibility in what has now become one of Massachusetts' most notorious and long-running travesties of justice -- namely the continued incarceration of Gerald Amirault on by now thoroughly discredited child sex abuse charges. Indeed, "Travesty of Justice" was the title of the lead editorial on the subject that appeared in 1999 in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, a publication that had never before in its history taken a position on a case.

This was only the latest addition to the growing recognition of the legal horrors visited on one Massachusetts family when prosecutors mounted their cases in the mid-1980s against elderly Violet Amirault, principal of the Fells Acres Day School, and her children, Cheryl and Gerald.

After eight years in prison, Violet and Cheryl were granted a motion for a new trial, and released. That left Gerald, in prison now nearly 15 years, the male member of the Amirault family, the one Commonwealth prosecutors are determined to hold on to -- he has 20 years left to serve -- and whom they have recently taken to portraying as the chief offender and the family's master criminal.

In April 2000, attorneys for Gerald Amirault filed a petition for executive clemency with Governor Cellucci, who had obviously been keeping up with the flow of shocked responses and revelations about the Amirault prosecution. Governor Cellucci accordingly expressed the view, while on a talk show, that justice had not been done in the Amirault case.

It was therefore with considerable hope that Gerald Amirault's attorneys presented the argument for commutation last September before the Advisory Board of Pardons, whose recommendations guide the Governor's decisions on executive clemency.

There was every reason to suppose that the outcome would be positive, and that the Board's decision would come in a few weeks. Whatever its decision on Gerald was going to be, the Board was obliged by law to deliver it within six months of the filing of the petition, a time span that ended in October. And still, as weeks and months have dragged on, no decision has come, nothing has been heard from the Board but a mysterious silence -- though its members must be aware that no sane person would believe they've been sitting around debating Gerald Amirault's petition for six months.

That silence has, we suspect, everything to do with Governor Cellucci's hopes for political appointment -- hopes that the Governor doubtless considered endangered by any decision he might take, especially a decision to commute the sentence of a convicted child abuser, Gerald Amirault. Who knew what the reaction would be from some hostile quarter of the press or what some Senator might say? You never know.

So it happened that Gerald Amirault has been left swinging in the wind, waiting for word of what's left of life from a Board rendered mute by Mr. Cellucci's career imperatives. It is now clear that the Governor has decided to dump the commutation decision on his successor, Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift. We don't, of course, expect to see many profiles in courage among politicians yearning for Presidential appointments. Still there's every reason to question the credentials of a nominee as driven by political expediency as Governor Cellucci has shown himself to be -- one who would serve an Administration that has put a premium on the issue of character.

The Amirault family, proprietors of Fells Acres, ran the most respected day school in Malden, the focal point of life for Violet Amirault, the object of all her zeal and ambition. Within a day of the first accusation, it had all been swept away as prosecutors began building their case. It was alleged that Mrs. Amirault had raped and otherwise molested children, that she and Gerald and Cheryl had lured four- and five-year-olds to be abused in secret rooms by a bad clown. There were stories of robots, animal mutilation, magic drinks, all of it identical to what was happening in similar prosecutions being mounted around the country at this time, among them the infamous McMartin case in California.

We've outlined these details before, and noted also that everywhere in the country these notorious cases have by now been overturned -- everywhere except in the state of Massachusetts. There the prosecutors continue to proclaim the justice of their case.

When the facts of this bogus prosecution began emerging, Scott Harshbarger, the district attorney who brought the case, responded by comparing the Amiraults to serial murderer John Wayne Gacy. Today Mr. Harshbarger is the president of Common Cause, in which capacity he holds forth regularly on the importance of integrity and official responsibility.

Mr. Cellucci's successor, Jane Swift, will have the opportunity to distinguish herself from her predecessor. One of the more obvious ways to do so would be to act immediately on the issue of commutation for Gerald Amirault. Governor Cellucci has had the opportunity to speak for sanity in his home state, and chose otherwise.

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