Murphy: DeLeo told me to spare Probation

Says he said ‘yes sir,’ but numbers fuzzy

The House’s former top budget official testified on Wednesday that he was ordered by House Speaker Robert DeLeo in 2009 to spare the Probation Department from the type of drastic budget cuts every other agency was facing.

Charles Murphy, the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the economy had just fallen off a cliff and the state budget needed to be cut drastically. He said DeLeo told him at a meeting in the Speaker’s office not to cut Probation’s budget. Murphy said he told DeLeo the optics of treating Probation differently from all other state agencies wouldn’t look good, but he said DeLeo was adamant.

“I said yes sir and I continued to march,” said Murphy, a former Marine.

While Murphy appeared clear on DeLeo’s orders, the actual budget numbers for Probation didn’t seem to back up his testimony. Murphy said he wanted to cut Probation’s budget by about 10 percent, but he was unclear about what number the 10 percent was being applied to.

The House’s actual Probation appropriation for fiscal 2010 was $133.4 million, down from the agency’s appropriation of $142.4 million the year before, or a drop of 6 percent. The House appropriation for 2010 was also well below the Senate appropriation for 2010 of $153.3 million. The final budget number for Probation in 2010 was $122.1 million, down 14.3 percent from the previous year.

Outside the courtroom, Murphy couldn’t clear up the confusion. But he insisted he heard DeLeo’s orders clearly and that the budget for Probation he took to the House floor was consistent with DeLeo’s orders. “It wasn’t cut as much as the number I put forth,” he said, but conceded he couldn’t remember what that number was.

It was that type of day at the trial of former Probation commissioner John O’Brien and two of his top aides, who are accused of operating a rigged hiring system at the agency designed to swap jobs for fatter budgets and political power. Many witnesses testified on Wednesday, but neither side emerged with any clear cut victories.

Kevan Cunningham, the first justice of the Taunton District Court, testified how O’Brien installed an acting chief probation officer at the court over his objections. But he then admitted that he went along with O’Brien’s choice when the person was hired on a permanent basis.

Cunningham said O’Brien called him in January 2006 after the chief probation officer at the Taunton District Court retired. Cunningham said O’Brien told him he wanted to make Joe Dooley, who at the time was working a probation job at Bristol Superior Court, the acting chief probation officer in Taunton. Cunningham said O’Brien’s choice concerned him. He said Dooley’s dad had been his predecessor as first justice, and Dooley and the clerk magistrate at the court had feuded for years. Cunningham said he feared the feud would resume if Dooley’s son took the job as acting chief probation officer. He also said he told O’Brien that Dooley wasn’t the best candidate. “He’s not known for his work ethic,” he said he told O’Brien.

Cunningham said O’Brien wouldn’t change his mind. “He said that Pacheco was putting enormous pressure on him,” an apparent reference to Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton. Cunningham said he told Paul Dolly, the regional judge in that area, about his conversation with O’Brien. Dolly is now the chief justice of the District Court system.

In March 2006, the job of chief probation officer was formally posted and Dooley applied. The interview panel consisted of Cunningham, Dolly, and two people from O’Brien’s office. All four rated Dooley No. 1, although Cunningham gave both Dooley and the candidate he favored, Carol Sylvia, a score of 88. Cunningham said he felt Sylvia was the better candidate but ranked her No. 2.

“I was afraid there would be bad feelings if I didn’t rate Joe Dooley high,” he said.

Stellio Sinnis, an attorney representing O’Brien, pointed out that Cunningham felt Sylvia was the better candidate but nevertheless signed a scoring sheet ranking Dooley No. 1. “You signed a lie?” Sinnis asked.

“I don’t believe it was a lie, sir,” Cunningham responded.

“Did you downscore Carol Sylvia?” Sinnis asked.

“Probably,” Cunningham admitted. He later added that he scored the interviews the way he did “because I knew Joe Dooley already had the position.” He suggested Dolly may have taken a similar approach.

As the prosecution rushes to wrap up its case, prosecutors called several lawmakers to the stand to flesh out their contention that O’Brien used jobs to gain influence on Beacon Hill. Reps. Michael Moran and Kevin Honan of Boston both testified that the Speaker’s office allowed them to steer people to Probation jobs at a new Electronic Monitoring Office in Clinton. Rep. Garrett Bradley of Hingham said his attempt to give Trial Court officials more control over their budget – a move that would have taken some control away from O’Brien at Probation – went nowhere.

Moran said he backed Rep. Ron Mariano of Quincy for speaker, but when Mariano dropped out in late 2007 he moved his support behind DeLeo in January 2008. In April, he said, DeLeo’s aide, Len Mirasolo, asked him if he knew anyone who might like a job at Probation. Moran said he recommended long-time friend and campaign supporter Kenneth Weiand for a $40,466-a-year job at the Clinton facility.

Weiand had previously worked as a real estate agent, as the manager of the Stockyard Restaurant in Allston, and had taken some college courses at Massachusetts Bay Community College.

Under cross-examination, Moran said he views his job as a rep to help constituents and others find jobs. “I often make the joke that’s it’s the 18th Suffolk employment agency,” he said, referring to his legislative district.

Honan said he told DeLeo in December 2007 that he intended to support him in the upcoming battle for speaker, which DeLeo won in January 2009. He said Mirasolo called him in April 2008 and asked if he had a suitable candidate for a job at the Clinton facility. Honan said he suggested Gavin Flanagan, his legislative aide, who lived in West Roxbury. Honan said the job conversation with Mirasolo was his only conversation with him.

Bradley testified about an amendment he filed to the fiscal 2006 budget that would have allowed Robert Mulligan, the chief justice for administration and finance, to transfer funds between court divisions to cover operating deficits. Bradley said the amendment, which had been drafted by Mulligan, did not pass.

Defense attorneys suggested in their questioning that Bradley filed the amendment to curry favor with Mulligan, who could close the district court in Hingham if he wanted to. They also pointed out that Bradley’s wife, Heather Bradley, is a judge in Plymouth District Court.

Mulligan himself wrapped up his testimony at the start of the day. He testified that O’Brien had informed him in one instance that nothing was inappropriate about his hiring methods and he also said he had never heard of anyone hiring someone without talking to them, which is what happened with some of the hires at the Electronic Monitoring Office in Clinton.

“Did you forget Elizabeth Cerda?” asked Sinnis, who represents O’Brien. Cerda, Mulligan’s legislative liaison, is the wife of a state rep. Sinnis said she had been hired without an interview, but Mulligan said he did interview her before hiring her, although he acknowledged that the date on her job application and the date of her appointment were the same.

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Bruce Mohl

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About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors have shown jurors so-called “sponsor lists” kept by Probation officials connecting applicants to officials who made recommendations. On Tuesday, the government filed a massive 370-page summary of that list, showing who the sponsor was, who the candidate was, when the recommendation was made, and for what position. Prosecutors want Judge William Young to have it available for jurors when they begin deliberations.

Not only does the list include lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, but it also includes elected and appointed officials at the state and local level, such as then-State Auditor Joseph Denucci and former BRA chairman Clarence “Jeep” Jones. The full list can be found here.