O’Brien attorneys call for Probation mistrial

Witness says he spoke with friends who also testified

Attorneys in the federal corruption trial of former state Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien asked for a mistrial Friday after a prosecution witness said he has been discussing testimony in the case with a pair of other witnesses. The judge in the case, William Young, did not immediately rule on the request.

Edward Dalton, a retired regional supervisor in Probation, testified Friday that he spoke with two friends, Ellen Slaney and Richard O’Neil, after they testified in the trial against O’Brien and two former O’Brien aides, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III. Judge Young has issued a sequestration order that bars any of the witnesses in the case from discussing the case with each other. Prosecutors have used the order to keep Burke’s daughter, whom they intend to call as a witness, out of the courtroom for the duration of the trial.

Slaney was the prosecution’s first witness. O’Neil testified earlier this week. Both delivered extensive testimony about O’Brien’s alleged attempts to steer Probation jobs to politically connected job candidates. Dalton testified Friday that both Slaney and O’Neil are his close friends, and that he has spoken to both throughout the trial. “I talked to Rick this week,” he said. He added that he and Slaney, who was on the witness stand for several days, would touch base over the phone after she was finished testifying for the day.

Dalton insisted that he never discussed the substance of Slaney and O’Neil’s testimony. Instead, he said, “I’d ask, how’d it go? I asked about logistics. What’s the courtroom like? Where do you stand?” William Fick, one of O’Brien’s attorneys, pressed further on what Slaney discussed with him and Dalton shot back: “You! What attorneys are aggressive, who isn’t, the 600 sidebars, things like that.”

“I don’t need to know what their testimony is,” Dalton argued, “because it’s unrelated to anything I’m dealing with.”

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Paul McMorrow

Associate Editor, CommonWealth

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Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

About Paul McMorrow

Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

Chatty prosecution witnesses have been a running theme throughout the mail fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy trial against O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke. Thomas Brownell, a retired judge, got defense attorneys to snap to attention when he casually testified that Melissa Melia had approached him and struck up a conversation in the federal courthouse cafeteria; Melia is a prosecution witness, and one of eight Probation hires whom prosecutors have connected to alleged mail fraud by O’Brien. And former Probation official John Cremens caused a stir when he testified that he’d learned he was an unindicted co-conspirator in the case while talking with “a couple other witnesses.”

Asked by Fick, the defense attorney, whether prosecutors had instructed him to stay away from other government witnesses, Dalton replied, “I don’t recall them saying anything.”