RACHAEL ROLLINS wasn’t sending out text messages into the void. City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo was answering.
Two scathing reports on Rollins’s conduct as US attorney showed that she crossed all sorts of lines in leaking non-public Department of Justice information to reporters and exchanging hundreds of texts with Arroyo as she tried to boost his candidacy by burying his opponent, Kevin Hayden, in last year’s race for Suffolk County district attorney.
Rollins has taken a fast fall, with her resignation effective today. But what about Arroyo’s role in the sordid tale that exploded this week?
While trying to secure the job of top prosecutor in Suffolk County he exchanged hundreds of texts and encrypted chats with the state’s top federal prosecutor, who was aiding his campaign in clear violation of rules governing her office.
Arroyo’s actions are ethically complicated, says Emil Ali, who sits on the board of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers and teaches legal ethics at Lewis & Clark Law School. A rule of professional conduct known as “the rat rule” imposes an obligation on lawyers to report other lawyers’ unethical behavior.
“I wouldn’t say it’s certain, but there’s a strong argument that Arroyo has a duty to report the conduct of Rollins, in light of the OIG report,” Ali said. “And, you know, questions remain about what Arroyo’s involvement was, and if Arroyo counseled or encouraged Rollins to violate the rules of professional conduct or commit conduct that could implicate the rules of professional conduct.”
Just two weeks out from last September’s Democratic primary, texts reported in the federal investigations show, Arroyo started to push Rollins on the act that would ultimately lead to her resignation.
“Are y’all announcing an investigation into [the police misconduct case] situation with Hayden?” he asked her. “Would be the best thing I can have happen at this moment.”
Arroyo texted that he was “literally fighting a punch meant to end my career,” referring to Boston Globe reports that Arroyo was twice investigated but not charged for possible sexual assault as a teenager.
“Understood,” Rollins responded. “Keep fighting and campaigning. I’m working on something.” Rollins would later leak a DOJ document to the Boston Herald meant to suggest that there would be an investigation into interim DA Kevin Hayden, then lied under oath to investigators about being the source of the leak.
That Arroyo was seeking the role of district attorney – a “minister of justice,” as Ali puts it – raises a more general conflict at least, he said.
If a prosecutor came into office through the improper means of another, “I think you have a moral dilemma,” said Ali. “You were brought into power by improper means, and a prosecutor, unfortunately, has a lot of power in our society.”
The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers declined to comment on any possible discipline for Arroyo or Rollins.
The jaw-dropping Rollins saga, in which Arroyo figures prominently, is reviving some of the bitter acrimony on the city council that surfaced during his DA run.
After the Globe’s sexual assault reporting last summer, council President Ed Flynn stripped Arroyo of his committee chairmanships. Blowback was fierce from the leftward council faction, with City Councilor Kendra Lara at the time saying the removal was “another embodiment of unfair and unequal treatment of councilors of color.” (Arroyo is Latino.) Flynn restored the chairmanships a few weeks later.
“Recent reports and troubling information has once again cast a shadow over the Boston City Council, causing a major distraction during both the budget and redistricting process,” Flynn said in a statement Thursday. “This is hurting our city at a critical time, and the residents of Boston deserve better.”
Flynn told CommonWealth he is not considering steps like removing Arroyo from chairmanship posts in response to the Rollins investigations.
Arroyo, who did not respond to several emailed questions about his conduct, released a general statement committing himself to serving his council district and saying “neither of these reports allege any wrongdoing on my part.”
The conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance disagrees. “The evidence being released by federal authorities seems to say otherwise,” spokesman Paul Craney said in a statement. “Arroyo should immediately step down from his position on the Boston City Council.”
Arroyo’s council colleague Erin Murphy also says Arroyo should consider resigning. The two are frequently on opposite sides of meaningful policy disagreements like the current imbroglio over redistricting, with Arroyo aligned with the council’s progressive bloc and Murphy the more conservative faction.
“I am beyond disappointed to read that my colleague, Ricardo Arroyo, apparently eagerly welcomed Rollins’s election tampering in order to advance his campaign for DA,” she said in a statement, adding “he must face swift and appropriate consequences.”