HAMILTON — As jury selection was about to get underway Monday, a judge’s decision to allow John Donovan Sr.’s tax expert to testify, and a flurry of last-minute additions to the defense witness list, led to the trial being postponed again, this time until April.
Lawrence Superior Court Judge Salim Tabit expressed concern that it would be too much to expect to be able to seat a jury to sit for what is now expected to be a 3½ week trial due to additional witnesses, in the midst of the holiday season.
Donovan Sr., 79, of Hamilton, is charged with filing or causing to be filed more than two dozen forged documents, including a will codicil and a series of deeds, in an attempt to gain control over his late son John Donovan III’s multi-million dollar estate.
John Donovan III, of Manchester, was 43 when he died of a rare cancer in 2015, leaving a widow and two young children.
The documents included purported quitclaim deeds that would have directed the proceeds of a $5 million sale of property to the Trust for Public Lands for a conservation area to Donahue Sr., instead of his son’s widow and children. The documents also included what prosecutors say are forged codicils to Donovan III’s will that would have given the defendant control over assets he’d been stripped of in a civil lawsuit involving his other four children, as well as forgiven debts he owed. He also purportedly inserted language instructing the son’s estate to “self-report” supposed fraud to the IRS.
Donovan Sr. contends that the allegations against him are false, and that his surviving children, from whom he is estranged, are seeking to discredit the documents to protect themselves from tax liability. No evidence of any tax liability has ever been found.
The judge’s decision to delay Donovan Sr.’s trial came after repeated efforts by both Tabit and the regional administrative justice, Judge Thomas Drechsler, to keep the long-delayed 2017 case on track for a trial this year.
Last week, Tabit denied a request by Donovan Sr.’s attorney, Robert Strasnick, to postpone the trial again so that his client can begin a course of hormone therapy for prostate cancer — treatments Tabit noted Monday could have been started months ago.
Strasnick on Monday asked the judge to reconsider that decision.
“Mr. Donovan did not have to wait until now to begin treatment,” Tabit said, recalling a doctor’s testimony that he’d recommended starting the regimen months ago. “He chose not to do it then.”
But the judge then partially denied a motion by prosecutor Jack Dawley to bar the defense from calling witnesses, including the defense’s tax expert, to tell jurors about Donovan Sr.’s claims of tax fraud by his children in establishing an off-shore trust.
Tabit said that Donovan Sr. is entitled to put on a defense — though he said he would bar defense witnesses from drawing any specific conclusions as to whether there was fraud.
That put Dawley in the position of needing to call his own experts to rebut the defense testimony, which would extend the trial by two to three days, the prosecutor estimated.
And in addition to the tax expert, Strasnick on Monday filed motions asking the court to allow him to subpoena three witnesses from other states, including Donovan Sr.’s surviving son.
James Donovan, a senior Goldman Sachs executive, already appears on the prosecution’s witness list, but Strasnick said it was not clear to him whether Dawley will call him to the stand, so Strasnick wants his own subpoena.
But Dawley said he had been provided no information on the other new defense witnesses. “There has been no reciprocal discovery, none,” he said, telling the judge that Strasnick has not provided any details as to who they are or why and what they will testify to.
“Why are these names just popping up now?” Tabit asked Strasnick.
Strasnick said one of the witnesses is an attorney who represented Donovan Sr. in a civil matter and who he had until recently contemplated adding to the defense team. Another had been living in Vietnam but recently returned. Another is an attorney for Goldman Sachs.
He estimated that their participation could add another day to the length of the trial.
Testimony had been scheduled to start next week, after jury selection. But after a pause, Tabit said, “I think that, in fairness to everybody, I almost have to continue the case.”
“This is going to take some time,” he said. “As much as I hate it, I may have to continue the case.”
But he told the lawyers that he wants both witness lists to be locked in place, that for each side to provide the other with all required information about expected testimony, and said he won’t consider any new witness requests or postponements.
Tabit also acknowledged that he will have to meet with Drechsler to discuss making a session available in April — as well as making himself available.
A status hearing has been set for Dec. 10.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.