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January 23, 2024

Suspended cannabis regulator files appeal to lower court ruling

A woman and a man stand in front of microphones Image | Courtesy of State House News Service Suspended Cannabis Control Commission Chairwoman Shannon O'Brien and her lawyer, Max Stern, spoke with reporters after a Dec. 14, 2023 hearing in Suffolk Superior Court.

Cannabis Control Commission Chair Shannon O'Brien's challenge of her suspension is now headed to the Appeals Court.

A Superior Court judge ruled in December that Treasurer Deborah Goldberg could go ahead with the meeting that could lead to O'Brien's firing under certain circumstances, rejecting process guardrails that O'Brien had sought. O'Brien's legal team said at the time that it was "carefully examining an appeal to a higher court after the holidays."

On Friday, O'Brien's attorneys filed a petition seeking to have an Appeals Court judge vacate the lower court decision, and issue a new order meeting O'Brien's demands. That includes that her hearing be public, that she has a chance to review a pending investigatory report on her conduct, and that Goldberg is prohibited from being the ultimate fact-finder in the case.

Judge Rachel Hershfang issued an order Monday giving Goldberg until Jan. 29 to file a response and putting a temporary pause on the lower court case in the meantime.

"Given the importance of the due process rights at stake, Chair O'Brien is seeking appellate review as to whether her future is to be determined by the Treasurer as the sole judge of the facts - in a closed proceeding shielded from public view – and where Chair O'Brien believes there will be no fairness in the Treasurer's proposed process," Howard Cooper, an O'Brien attorney at Todd & Weld, said.

Goldberg suspended O'Brien, a former state treasurer herself and the Democratic Party's 2002 nominee for governor, with pay in September after having appointed her to chair the CCC a year prior. Goldberg has given two justifications for O'Brien's suspension and possible firing: that the chairwoman is alleged to have made racially insensitive remarks and that she mistreated former CCC Executive Director Shawn Collins, a former Goldberg deputy.

O'Brien has denied the allegations against her and sued Goldberg, claiming unlawful removal.

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