Whitey Bulger’s Wrongful Death Action: Chasing Rainbow Bounties

Did you ever chase after a rainbow looking for a pot of gold? I’ve read that it is an Irish legend that leprechauns bury pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. I suppose if you believe in leprechauns then you might as well believe that would be the logical place to bury their loot.

Now it seems the Whitey’s heirs are looking for a pot of gold, or at least the news of that is what seems to have excited the local media allowing them to write about something on those days when you’d rather phone in a column than do any real work associated with writing it. Whitey’s attorney Hank Brennan told the Wall Street Journal “that he will bring wrongful death and negligence claims on behalf of Bulger’s estate. Brennan told The Associated Press he expects to begin filing a number of lawsuits over the next month, but declined to provide further detail.

I equate the planned suit of Whitey’s estate against the government as looking for a pot of gold. This is because the chances of any recovery by his estate is equal to the chance of finding that proverbial pot of gold. That makes me wonder why the administrator of Whitey Bulger’s estate, once he is appointed, would bother.

I had a client come to me when I practiced civil law seeking to bring a suit. He told me he was sitting in his house this particular evening and a car came speeding down the street, rammed into the car that belonged to the person across the street, and skid up onto the neighbors lawn and slammed into the front porch seriously damaging it. I asked him what damages he incurred as a result of this. He was confused asking: “what do you mean damages, you heard what happened, I want to sue.”

I don’t know if he ever did. I refused to sue on his behalf. I told him he was wasting his time suing because even if he had a cause of action, which I didn’t see, he had no damages.

That is the problem with Whitey suing the government or anyone else. He has no damages his estate can claim. I’m sure his attorney will go through the motions of bringing a suit and perhaps the heirs of Whitey’s estate will want that to happen but if they are looking for a pot of gold it’s just not going to be there. Given that, I’d assume after some serious consideration  his heirs would not be interested in prolonging this sad saga.

The first thing that would have to be considered is where would the action be brought. I assume it will be in Boston’s Federal Court. The next thing would be under what federal statute. I assume it will be 42 U.S.C. § 1983, popularly known as “Section 1983.” This is a federal law that allows lawsuits for violations of constitutional rights, the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.”

It would be a wrongful death action under that section. Here you can read about this type of action. Next we would have to decide the state law that would apply concerning a wrongful death action. I assume it will be that of West Virginia. Here is its law.

It provides an estate is entitled to damages for among other things:  “A) Sorrow, mental anguish, and solace which may include society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of the decedent; (B) compensation for reasonably expected loss of (i) income of the decedent, and (ii) services, protection, care and assistance provided by the decedent; (C) expenses for the care, treatment and hospitalization of the decedent incident to the injury resulting in death; and (D) reasonable funeral expenses.” 

I don’t see much money coming to the estate from those items. It doesn’t mention the estate recovering for Whitey’s pain and suffering but even if it did, how much could there have been when he was probably unconscious after he was struck in the head with the paddle lock and during most of the attack on him.

Then there’s the further question: who gets any money that is recovered. As I understand it any money that can be traced to Whitey goes to the relatives of his victims. That should be another disincentive to the administrator of his estate to authorize a suit.

Attorney Brennan is suing for damages but he also said:  “It’s important for the family and the public to know why the prisons decided to wheel an 89-year-old man with a history of heart attacks into one of the most dangerous prisons in the country.” This seems to be a reversion back to the trial tactics at Whitey’s trial where he admitted his crimes but attacked the government for letting him commit them.

I’m not sure it’s in the administrator’s best interest to be rehashing Whitey’s life and his conduct in prison. What will they gain out it? Even in punishing the government if it did something wrong,  Whitey’s not a person who will elicit sympathy from a jury and you can be sure every sordid detail of his life will be presented to a jury were the case be tried. Damages can be awarded in the amount of one dollar.

Sometimes it is best to let the dead lie in peace and the survivors continue on with their lives. It escapes me that the administrator of Whitey’s estate wants to have this linger any further in the public eye especially when the chances of a monetary award are as elusive as a leprechaun at first light.






17 replies on “Whitey Bulger’s Wrongful Death Action: Chasing Rainbow Bounties”

  1. Ultimately, this action, if it happens, is about principles. That’s what Bill Bulger has always represented, and it’s likely what the family wants, Should prisoners die in custody, with life going on without missing a beat? Does the band play on? I agree that this isn’t about money; it’s about accountability.

    Do not forget how aggressively Bill Bulger pursued his housing allowance when it was omitted from his state pension by the State Treasurer’s office. Bill Bulger is a man of principle, and he will pursue those principles to the very end. And I imagine that he’d say, borrowing from James Michael Curley, “I’d do it again!”

    Regarding the MKULTRA topic, James did consent to participate in the study; it was not something which was forced. He wanted to have reduced time as an incentive, sure. Yet, if that program somehow messed up his mind, what about the years while on the run when he committed no murders? What about the years before MKULTRA when he was already hearing the heat of his own drummer, beyond the reach of his father, church, brothers, and sisters? Is the government to blame for his decisions? I think Bill Bulger himself would agree in the principle of individual responsibility.

    That means that while no one should be in charge of another person, that no one should be blamed for the choices we ultimately make for ourselves. Matt raises some good points; but this litigation, if it happens, is about principles, not profit. Otherwise, other prisoners may die in custody, and that will be totally fine, if this is not addressed. Because Bill Bulger advocated for his housing allowance to be included in the pension — which the SJC upheld and affirmed by the law’s black letter — other retirees began including their housing subsidies, too. Bill Bulger changed the system. It wasn’t about him; it was about principles.

    Rest assured that any litigation, if filed, will be on this same basis.

    1. ” … Whistle blowers and informants . ”

      This is very elegantly crafted ; though whistle blowers Roll call would be a real Heavy Toll call .

      They have enough problems as it is .

      Nice piece !!!

  2. “It’s important for the family and the public to know why the prisons decided to wheel an 89-year-old man with a history of heart attacks into one of the most dangerous prisons in the country.” —Attorney Hank Brennan

    I agree. Particularly after Bulger was prosecuted for the non-crime of being an FBI informant, recorded in detail by Matt Connolly himself, during Bulger’s trial for numerous horrible crimes. What was the motive for doing that except so they could dispose of him at any time through justice, swift and sure, of the jailhouse variety?


    Was Whitey, nearing the end, showing signs of talking?

    Matt writes: “It escapes me that the administrator of Whitey’s estate wants to have this linger any further in the public eye especially when the chances of a monetary award are as elusive as a leprechaun at first light.” I agree therefore there is a good possibility that what is at work here is a higher purpose. What it appears might very well be going on here is not about justice for Whitey’s estate, but about justice for all. What about the corrections officers who had to clean up? They probably had never heard of Whitey Bulger, or barely. Is the mind able to process the information that the battered remains of the elderly man before them is that of a terrible criminal, so it’s okay? I think not. How does this brutality effect the dynamic within the prison facility, between the corrections officers and the inmates, between the weak and the strong within this prison and beyond. To be sure there will be collateral damage that will never make it into the court or the press and like the Jamal Khashoggi murder, it will have a chilling effect on some whistle blowers and informants.

    1. Well, nice to see you have made a New Year’s Resolution.

      The MKULTRA thing is trippy. I have talked to a number of Spooks around here and they always give me a glossed over response about it. It is not looked on with fondness.

      Have a Happy New Year, all. When I lived up in Milton I would always go grouse hunting down in Plymouth on this day. Hit the Makepeace cranberry bog system and bring along an ice auger and jigging pole and catch a bunch of yellow perch for a fish fry dinner. Wonderful.

      Stay safe, folks.

  3. Again, Matt, you seem to be missing the point. It seems you are still deeply immersed in the “Tale of Whitey.”
    How long did the family members of Jim Bulger’s victims have to wait for compensation from the federal government? Perhaps, other than the cash found in his Santa Monica apartment, they are still waiting.
    Hank Brennan and the Bulger family certainly know that suing the US government is not profitable, and many family members will be long dead if the government ever is forced to pay out. It’s not the money.
    Bulger’s victimization by the CIA needs to be addressed (yes! I said it! VICTIMIZATION! There is no other way to define what the CIA did to him and thousands of others, and, hopefully, through this legal battle their victimization will be addressed as well.)
    Bulger wanted to plead guilty and die.
    Vile Fred Wyshak denied this — therefore, Wyshak and those he works for were obligated to keep Bulger safe in prison! Hopefully, Wyshak’s actions throughout this case will be investigated. (We know of Wyshak’s determination to make things go his way — seemingly worked very hard to see that John Connolly went to prison; indicted Bob Fitzpatrick for contradicting him; I firmly believe he set in motion the phony charges against Ralph DeMasi for standing up to his dirty dealings with murderous professional witnesses. And, my gut tells me he played a part in having Bulger sent to West Virginia.)
    In my opinion, Wyshak’s a very sick man who must be exposed. Brennan’s lawsuit might do just that. Brennan is a man of high integrity who wasn’t mesmerized by the “Tale of Whitey,” but actually got to know and befriend the man.
    Was Bulger a murderer? Absolutely.
    And, he was absolutely a victim. Which came first?
    Matt, take time to read “Project MKULTRA, the CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification — U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources, Washington D.C., Wednesday, August 3, 1977.”
    This is where the true story of Jim Bulger begins….
    And, Matt, leave the Bulger family alone….God knows they’ve been through enough.

  4. Aren’t legal fees and administrative costs of the Estate a priority? If the DOP settled for $200 grand the lawyer and the Court approved Administrator ( A family member) could defend all claims, expend large amounts of time and basically deplete all or most of the assets of the assets. The cost of the funeral would have a priority over other creditors. It may be worth it especially for the lawyer.

  5. Very trim indeed . All about deploying those soldiers with economy . They are too valuable to waste and they dictate time, rhythm , and readability . I get a kick out of what is almost a synaesthesia experience for me when I consider the structured arrangements of consonants and syllables to make a piece of writing that you can sort of flow into consciousness with as you read it . NICE .

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