BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick asked Massachusetts Inspector General Glenn Cunha to take over the review of the former state drug lab at the center of a testing scandal that threatens to unravel thousands of criminal cases.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, who will continue to handle a criminal probe into the mishandling of drug tests at the Hinton lab, requested last week that Patrick appoint an independent investigator to conduct the broader review of whether the failures at the lab go beyond former chemist Annie Dookhan and her immediate supervisor.

Patrick, in a statement Monday announcing his selection of Cunha, said the inspector general “brings the necessary independence and experience to the task and enjoys the support of both prosecutors and the defense bar.”

Dookhan, who has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice, is accused of skirting protocols and faking drug test results. Officials said she tested more than 60,000 drug samples involving about 34,000 individuals over a nine-year period at the lab.

The state’s trial court has been holding special sessions to consider challenges from defense attorneys who are seeking to have sentences for clients put on hold and bail granted to defendants already serving prison time in cases in which Dookhan tested suspected drugs. Many such requests have already been granted.

Patrick has separately asked legislators to approve $30 million to cover the initial costs of the scandal for the courts, prosecutors, public defenders and other state agencies.

“The integrity and credibility of the criminal justice system require a comprehensive and thorough review of the drug lab,” said Cunha, who added that he is assembling a team to review the lab’s policies and procedures.

Legal groups including the Massachusetts Bar Association were the first to ask for an independent probe. While praising Coakley, they said having the attorney general handle the broader review of the lab could raise conflict-of-interest questions since her office has also represented the lab in previous legal proceedings.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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