Defense lays Probation problems on Mulligan

Judge admits he had power but did not curtail patronage hires

Defense attorneys in the federal corruption trial of former Probation commission John J. O’Brien suggested on Tuesday that Robert Mulligan, the retired chief justice for administration and management at the Trial Court, had the power to deal with any hiring problems at the agency and didn’t get the job done.

“Were you in a little over your head as CJAM?” asked John Amabile, an attorney for William Burke III, one of O’Brien’s codefendants.

“I was not a HR [human resources] expert,” Mulligan replied. “I was occupied in many spheres; this was a small part of my responsibilities…I had to rely on the people working for me to do this in a proper and honest way.”

But Mulligan admitted he had the authority to institute changes when he discovered that hiring practices in the Probation department were in apparent violation of the Trial Court personnel manual. He said he lamented his lack of action.

“I had the authority to monitor – to monitor – his hiring,” Mulligan said of O’Brien. “It was all in great hindsight. I could have done it and I should have done it.”

Mulligan, on the stand for the third day, had previously testified he repeatedly clashed with O’Brien over hirings, with prosecutors showing numerous correspondence between the two men, including one letter where Mulligan ordered O’Brien to “winnow the field” of candidates for probation officer positions down to eight per opening. Mulligan had stated O’Brien planned to set up interviews with more than 3,800 candidates as a way to bury judges in paperwork and end their participation in the hiring process.

But O’Brien attorney Stellio Sinnis used the same letter to argue O’Brien was only following Mulligan’s orders about allowing only eight interviews for each job. Toward the end of the letter, Mulligan wrote: “You choose the process,” referring to how the eight would be selected. He then concluded by saying: “Begin immediately.”

Prosecutors charge that O’Brien and two of his top aides, Burke and Elizabeth Tavares, ran a rigged hiring system at Probation where favored applicants’ names were handed to interview panels for placement among the top candidates. The three are charged with mail fraud, conspiracy, and bribery and O’Brien and Tavares are charged with racketeering.

For more than three hours, defense attorneys tried to poke holes in Mulligan’s claims that O’Brien was a renegade department head, who often undercut the judge’s authority and used his influence with the Legislature to enact changes to give O’Brien more power and autonomy.

Last week, Mulligan testified he reviewed about 20 probation hires “red-flagged” by his aides, but on Tuesday he only talked about two being red-flagged, the daughter of a controversial Hingham District clerk-magistrate and the son of a former state representative and judge.

Mulligan recalled seeing the interview scoring sheets regarding the hiring of Alfred Gavaghan, allegedly the choice of O’Brien, for a probation officer position. He said the judge from the court wanted another candidate and lobbied for that person. When he reviewed the scoring, he said he saw that both of O’Brien’s representatives gave Gavaghan perfect scores while the judge gave her candidate a score in the 90s.

“I thought they [both sides] were scoring with an outcome in mind,” Mulligan said.

Defense attorneys focused on Mulligan’s approach to hiring court officers, which they claim was no different than O’Brien’s with probation officers. Sinnis pointed out that Mulligan received calls and letters from legislative leaders supporting different candidates and insisted Mulligan gave those referrals more weight. He also showed a spreadsheet Mulligan’s office maintained similar to sponsor sheets prosecutors have shown jurors that were kept by O’Brien, containing the candidates’ names and who they were recommended by.

“When you were hiring court officers, you gave more weight to those recommended by [legislative] leadership, correct?” Sinnis asked.

“I looked at all the recommendations received and I looked at their qualifications carefully,” Mulligan said. “I gave weight to the recommendation that they deserved. I would always look at recommendations that come from leadership, of course.”

Mulligan said he kept track of who was making recommendations in order to be able to respond if a lawmaker questioned why someone they referred was not hired.

“If the speaker comes to me and says I want you to appoint so and so, and that happened twice with [former] speaker [Sal] DiMasi, and I didn’t do it, I would want to be able to explain why,” Mulligan said. “I made merit appointments.”

Sinnis spotlighted two court officer hirings signed off by Mulligan, one the father of Senate President Therese Murray’s chief of staff, and the other sponsored by then-Senate President Robert Travaglini. Both men were older with no relevant security or police experience and both had worked most recently in the restaurant business. Mulligan insisted “maturity” was a key factor in selecting court officers.

“This is an entry level position, we look for people with maturity,” Mulligan told jurors. “We don’t discriminate based on age in the Trial Court.”

Prosecutors claim that O’Brien did not follow proper procedure in hiring and defense attorneys tried to show that Mulligan was lax in adhering to guidelines as well. Sinnis displayed the hiring documents related to the probation officers that O’Brien is charged with hiring as part of the indictment. Sinnis showed that even though Mulligan wrote letters approving the hires, he did not sign the official form certifying the hire as required by the manual. Mulligan appeared perplexed as to why his signature was not on the records.

Mulligan also said during the hiring of some 260 court officers in 2004 and 2006, he made a concerted effort to hire minorities, none of whom, he said, had high-powered sponsors.

“None of the black officers I hired had any letters of recommendations,” he said. “I had a target of hiring 25 percent black court officers.”

US District Court Judge William Young had to continually field objections, often being talked over by Mulligan whom he had to admonish to stop while he ruled. Amabile attempted to introduce evidence that Mulligan hired the son-in-law of Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Margot Botsford as a court officer even as the SJC was considering Mulligan’s application to serve a second-five year term as CJAM. Young cut off the questioning and sustained prosecutors objections but not before an irritated Mulligan took issue with Amabile’s inference.

“That is not at all correct, factually wrong and terribly misleading,” Mulligan protested.

Amabile got Mulligan to admit to jurors that even though he testified before the grand jury twice and met with federal prosecutors “three to five times,” he refused requests to meet with defense attorneys before the trial. Amabile suggested it was Mulligan’s animosity toward O’Brien.

“You didn’t like Jack O’Brien, correct?” Amabile asked.

“I didn’t like the way he acted,” Mulligan said. “I try not to dislike people.”

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.

OTHER PROBATION NEWS

Young told jurors testimony should conclude this week and they should get the case by early next week. After jurors left, he gave lawyers a breakdown of the amount of time they have remaining before he sends the case to jurors. Prosecutors have a little less than five hours left to wrap up their case while defense attorneys have about 75 minutes remaining for cross examination and then three days to present their case, if they choose.