ON THE EVE of a scheduled court hearing challenging her suspension as chair of the state Cannabis Control Commission, Shannon O’Brien said state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has agreed to hold a hearing on her removal.
O’Brien filed a lawsuit last week alleging she had been improperly suspended by Goldberg without due process or an opportunity to be heard publicly. Following Goldberg’s offer to hold a hearing on November 7, O’Brien filed a notice Thursday morning in Suffolk Superior Court postponing Friday’s scheduled hearing on her motion for a preliminary injunction blocking her suspension.
“I filed my lawsuit in order to force Treasurer Goldberg to follow the law and give me an opportunity to be heard. She notified my legal counsel yesterday that we will have a hearing in early November,” O’Brien said in a statement.
Goldberg, who appointed O’Brien a year ago, suspended her on September 14 without any public explanation.
Goldberg remained silent on the issue for two weeks before releasing a statement on September 28 saying “several serious allegations were made by a Commissioner and CCC staff about the Chair’s behavior.”
O’Brien filed her lawsuit the same day. According to her suit, there is no provision in the statute governing the cannabis commission for Goldberg to suspend the chair without due process.
In response to the allegations concerning O’Brien, Goldberg said an outside law firm was hired by the cannabis commission to conduct an investigation. Goldberg said she chose to suspend O’Brien with pay while the findings of the report are “being reviewed and action is considered.”
Goldberg’s office said the report has been shared with O’Brien.
In her court filing last week, O’Brien charged that “there was an entrenched bureaucracy at the CCC that would assert baseless allegations in order to cause lengthy internal investigations that were designed to force resignations.”
O’Brien’s predecessor, Steven Hoffman, the first chair of the commission, resigned last year under mysterious circumstances only four months before his five-year term was set to end. Neither Hoffman nor the commission ever explained his abrupt exit.
In her court filing, O’Brien claimed that Hoffman resigned due to “unsubstantiated allegations” lodged against him, and that a cannabis commission employee told her that she would be “Hoffman 2.0.”
Earlier in the summer, O’Brien caused a stir when she announced at a meeting of the cannabis board that the commission was “in crisis” and that its executive director, Shawn Collins, would be leaving his position at the end of the year.
Collins subsequently denied that he plans to leave the CCC, and O’Brien apologized for any “angst” or “confusion” she caused with her remarks.
O’Brien has been a major player in Democratic Party circles. She served one term as a state treasurer and was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2002, losing to Republican Mitt Romney.
In her lawsuit, she claims that Goldberg’s actions have damaged her professionally and personally by publicly and widely defaming her. She also claims her suspension has damaged public trust in the cannabis commission.
Last month, a group of lawmakers issued a call for oversight hearings or new legislation to provide greater scrutiny of the commission. They cited ongoing problems with the commission’s handling of its complex regulatory responsibilities as well as the new uncertainties with O’Brien’s suspension. The commission needs more “oversight, transparency, and accountability,” according to a letter authored by Sens. Michael Moore, Michael Brady, and Bruce Tarr, and Reps. Donald Berthiaume and Michael Soter.
Goldberg’s office said details concerning the November 7 hearing are still being worked out.
“When I was appointed by Treasurer Goldberg, she gave me a clear mandate to fix the very real and long-standing problems at the Commission,” O’Brien said in her statement today. “I am very much looking forward to having the opportunity to explain in detail to the Treasurer and the public the significant issues facing the Cannabis Control Commission, what I encountered when I tried to fix them, and explaining why I should immediately resume my duties at the Commission as chair.”