It started with a simple, if potentially urgent, need. A court official wanted a key to gain access to a bathroom.
But the case of the borrowed key has blown up into a bizarre State Police and grand jury investigation that is roiling a Hadley courthouse and has spread to high-ranking court administrators as far away as Boston. The battle features state officials, typically in charge of pursuing justice, using the legal system and state resources to wage a fierce fight among themselves.
Leading the criminal investigation of court officials is Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel. She has enlisted two State Police detectives and a grand jury to determine whether a court security officer unlawfully entered her office to get the key in question at the behest of another court official, Christopher D. Reavey, clerk magistrate for the juvenile courts in Franklin and Hampshire counties.
Scheibel said in an interview that she is investigating an "unauthorized entry" of a locked office. But in documents obtained by the Globe, Reavey called her actions a "witch hunt" with roots in a bureaucratic dispute over office space.
The key opens the door to a second-floor room for prospective jurors. Reavey had a court officer get the key from the district attorney's office suite after business hours on Feb. 19 because the jury pool room has a bathroom that Reavey wanted to make available to lawyers. Details of the case are laid out in letters Reavey wrote to high-ranking court officials.
Reavey noted in the letter that the juvenile court moved from a courthouse in Northampton to Hadley in February, and he theorized that he infuriated Scheibel by questioning whether her staff needed three offices there. "This I believe is the fuel for this abusive investigation, a smoldering fire which was ignited by the jury pool key debacle," Reavey wrote in the March 24 letter.
Reavey, 57, who has been clerk magistrate since 1995, declined to comment yesterday.
Scheibel, the district attorney of Franklin and Hampshire counties since 1993, confirmed that her office is investigating what she called "an unauthorized entry into a locked office at the Juvenile Court at Hadley."
"We're looking into what happened, how it happened, and why it happened," she said, without providing details.
She dismissed Reavey's suggestion that the probe stemmed from a dispute over office space.
"This isn't about a feud. I wouldn't waste the time on a feud," she said. "If the tide was turned and it was a judge's lobby that was entered into and a desk drawer or more were gone through and that was brought to my attention, I'd have an obligation to look into it."
As part of the probe, Scheibel took the extraordinary step of issuing an April 1 subpoena ordering the chief justice of the state trial courts, Robert A. Mulligan, to turn over a report to the grand jury, according to other documents obtained by the Globe. Mulligan asked a Hampshire County superior court judge to quash the subpoena, but it was unclear what happened.
"Despite every effort by the Administrative Office of the Trial Court to resolve this noncriminal matter reasonably with District Attorney Scheibel, she has insisted on continuing her criminal investigation," Daniel P. Sullivan, the general counsel for the trial courts, wrote on behalf of Mulligan.
The Globe learned of the investigation after obtaining copies of letters that Reavey sent in March to Sullivan and to Martha P. Grace, chief justice of the state's juvenile court. The Globe also obtained court documents, including a memorandum seeking to quash the subpoena issued to Mulligan.
The controversy stems from an incident that occurred a few days after the juvenile court moved on the weekend of Feb. 16.
Some time after 4:30 p.m. the following week, Reavey told a court officer, Michael Grabiec III, that he was unable to open the door of the jury room with his key, according to correspondence written by Reavey. Reavey said he wanted to make the bathroom available to lawyers and other officials when no jurors were there.
Grabiec told Reavey the key was in the district attorney's offices nearby, Reavey wrote. The court officer went to the suite, punched a code into a keypad, and entered, said the memorandum written by Sullivan. Grabiec was authorized to enter all parts of the building and knew the code because he had been asked to adjust a thermostat there.
Reavey wrote that Grabiec "left my office and returned with the key in less than one minute." Grabiec declined to comment yesterday, referring questions to a supervisor who could not be reached.
Days after the incident, Scheibel assigned a prosecutor to the matter. Then two State Police detectives began questioning court employees, interviews that "have caused needless anxiety and frustration," said the memorandum to quash the subpoena.
Reavey identified himself as the target of the investigation in his letter to Sullivan and says he is "surprised by the fury of the district attorney." He has hired a lawyer, David P. Hoose, of Springfield, who would not comment. Mulligan, Sullivan, and Grace also declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
As clerk magistrate for the juvenile courts in the two counties, Reavey keeps court records and holds hearings on matters such as children in need of state services. He has worked in the state court system for 25 years and was paid $110,220 last year.
Governor William F. Weld appointed Scheibel district attorney 15 years ago to fill a vacancy created when District Attorney Judd J. Carhart was named a superior court judge. In 1994, the Republican prosecutor became the first woman elected district attorney in Massachusetts.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at email@example.com.