Holding on tight and not letting go

By Jack Sullivan

Judging from comments House Speaker Robert DeLeo made to The Republican of Springfield, it doesn’t appear there’s any appetite in the Legislature for reining in the autonomy of the state’s probation commissioner.

DeLeo said he does not see the “operational dysfunction” in the Trial Court that was outlined in a 23-page report by the Court Management Advisory Board. The board said the Legislature has insulated the probation service as well as many clerks from oversight by top court officials. Many believe the Legislature, and the House in particular, uses probation as a patronage haven, but DeLeo doesn’t see a problem.

 “What I’ve heard by talking to various clerks, probation officers, and some of the judges even, is that they feel like their particular courts are being well run from the judge’s perspective, from the clerk’s perspective, and from probation’s perspective,” DeLeo told the newspaper. “I’m not so sure I would phrase it as a dysfunctional problem.”

Robert Mulligan, chief justice for administration and management of the Trial Court, is seeking greater oversight over probation, and Gov. Deval Patrick sought in his budget proposal for next year to move the department into the executive branch for efficiency and to eliminate patronage.

Patrick’s proposal was not included in the House budget plan, and Mulligan’s pleas were ignored by House budget officials. Rep. Charles Murphy, the House’s chief budget official, said the Legislature wasn’t about to cede its authority over probation to either the government or court officials.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Patrick seemed to step up his criticism of probation in remarks to the Republican. “I will say I think it is the least transparent agency in government and, in some respects, the least accountable,” Patrick said.

Commissioner of Probation John J. O’Brien, who only responds to inquiries by email, disputed the findings in the Court Management Advisory Board’s report and insisted he is but one cog in the hiring process at the agency he oversees. But Rep. Stanley Rosenberg told The Republican that probation may be the last vestige of old-style patronage, outside of quasi-public agencies.