Editor’s note: CommonWealth Magazine wrote about The Light’s efforts to report on the criminal case and employment status of former Southcoast Health President and CEO Keith A. Hovan. We are republishing their story in today’s New Bedford Light, with permission from CommonWealth Magazine.

When founders of the New Bedford Light announced plans a year ago to launch a new nonprofit news site to cover the South Coast, they pointed to the desperate need for in-depth journalism that can shine a light on important issues in the region that are otherwise not adequately covered amid drastic cuts at for-profit newspapers.

Since then, the new journalism enterprise has dug in on big topics, shedding light on issues affecting the region’s all-important fishing industry and highlighting how low vaccination rates are compounding the COVID crisis in New Bedford.

Sometimes, though, the best that journalism can do to illuminate an important topic is to sound the alarm over the resistance of various powers-that-be to letting the public see what’s going on. That was the case this week with a 2,000-word-plus story documenting the walls of silence that have gone up in face of the New Bedford Light’s efforts to report on the case of Keith Hovan, the former CEO of Southcoast Health.

In November, Hovan was arrested and charged with domestic assault and battery in connection with an incident at his Rochester home. The Light says police also “confiscated dozens of legal firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition that were securely stored in his home.” Rochester police subsequently filed an application for a criminal complaint seeking felony charges against Hoven for possession of illegal firearms magazines or feeding devices.

Hovan, who earned $2.5 million in 2019, according to the Light, took a paid leave following his arrest. In late January, Southcoast Health’s board of trustees announced that an acting CEO who had been running the three-hospital system would continue in that role, but “did not say whether Hovan could still be employed by Southcoast Health in some other capacity, or whether he will continue to collect his CEO-level salary,” according to this week’s story.

And what does the health system have to say more than three weeks later? Nothing.

When New Bedford Light asked if there was any type of settlement with Hovan in the works and whether there was information about a search for his successor, Southcoast Health said it had no comment.

The Light published a list of all 16 members of the health system’s board of trustees and said it reached out to each of them to try to understand what’s happening. Only one member responded, and that was only to say that she couldn’t comment.

Meanwhile, the legal case concerning Hovan’s ammunition cache remains equally murky and clouded in secrecy. In December, the domestic abuse charge was dismissed by a judge after Hovan’s wife declined to testify. But the ammunition case has fallen into the black hole of what are known in Massachusetts as “show-cause” hearings.

Under this process, unique to Massachusetts, a clerk magistrate gathers information in a hearing — which is not open to the public — and decides whether there is probable cause to think a crime was committed and, if so, whether to allow the application for criminal charges to go forth.

The Light unsuccessfully appealed to a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to have the proceedings opened up. Meanwhile, the Rochester police chief didn’t respond to inquiries from The Light asking about the case, so it’s now unclear where the matter stands.

Following Boston Globe reporting on the problems inherent in such a secret judicial system, in 2018 the Trial Court appointed a working group of judges and other court officials to review the policies. The group issued a report a year later proposing some changes, but no action has yet been taken.

For now, it’s not clear what’s happening with Hovan — either in relation to his status at Southcoast Health or any criminal proceedings. But the public is still being very well served by the new journalism enterprise. The very act of shining a light on a lack of transparency can be an important step in putting pressure on the health care and court systems to stop hiding from the public.

Michael Jonas is executive editor of CommonWealth Magazine. This story was reprinted with the permission of CommonWealth Magazine.

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