On Friday, January 19, 2024, The Public’s Radio reported that an appeal alleging misconduct by a New Bedford judge was allowed to move forward. A judge named David Frank issued an order permitting attorney James McKenna limited powers to subpoena new evidence in his post-conviction case on behalf of his client Gerson Pascual-Santana.
Pascual-Santana was convicted last spring in New Bedford District Court of indecent assault of a child. The trial judge was Douglas Darnbrough and the prosecutor was a woman who continues to work for the Bristol County District Attorney’s office. Anonymous letters circulated in September accusing Judge Darnbrough of having a secret romantic relationship with the prosecutor while continuing to oversee her cases. Judge Darnbrough stepped down from the bench in November citing health reasons.
McKenna filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds that his client did not receive a fair trial from an impartial judge, given the alleged relationship between Judge Darnbrough and the prosecutor. Judge Frank was appointed to oversee the case. He allowed limited post-conviction discovery, which allows defendants access to potentially exculpatory evidence.
However, Judge Frank wrote that McKenna presented only “minimal” evidence to substantiate the anonymous allegations. The claims came from an untraceable author. As a result, Frank denied McKenna’s requests to subpoena confidential records from the Massachusetts Trial Court and the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Frank did order the Bristol County DA’s office to produce records summarizing whether it learned of any inappropriate relationship between the prosecutor and Judge Darnbrough during its internal investigation. McKenna will have until February 12th to review these documents and file additional motions if needed. The order represents a small victory in Pascual-Santana’s efforts to obtain a new trial based on the controversial allegations against the judge who presided over his case.
Source: The Public’s Radio