Defense: Mulligan played patronage like O’Brien
Lawyers go after key prosecution witness
An attorney for former Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien on Wednesday accused Robert Mulligan, the former chief justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court, of practicing political patronage, playing fast and loose with hiring documents, and steering jobs to favored applicants without advertising them publicly. Those are all things that prosecutors in O’Brien’s ongoing federal corruption trial have accused the former Probation boss of doing. In O’Brien’s case, the alleged hiring chicanery is being held up as evidence that O’Brien sat atop a racketeering conspiracy, while Mulligan is the government’s star witness, the man prosecutors hope will put a bow on two months of testimony about Beacon Hill patronage.
Prosecutors allege O’Brien and two former top deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, ran Probation like a criminal enterprise, rigging job interviews and steering patronage jobs to people who came recommended by powerful Beacon Hill politicians. The bulk of the case against O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke is built on mail fraud allegations. Mulligan is the lynchpin in those allegations, because he signed off on O’Brien’s hires.
Mulligan testified Tuesday and Wednesday that he approved O’Brien’s hiring requests because O’Brien represented to him, in writing, that Probation was following a merit-based hiring system. “You’re looking for the very best person you can get,” Mulligan said Tuesday. But Wednesday, O’Brien’s attorney, Stellio Sinnis, peppered Mulligan with suggestions that Mulligan engaged in the same sort of hiring shenanigans that landed O’Brien in a federal courtroom.
Sinnis said Mitchelson was the daughter of a man who sat on a bank board with Mulligan’s brother, Gerry, a former state banking commissioner. Robert Mulligan denied putting a word in for Mitchelson during the Probation hiring process, saying, “I was naive. I wrote this afterwards.”
“You were naive?” Sinnis asked incredulously. “Is that what you just said?”
“I did not contact anyone in Probation to hire this woman,” Mulligan insisted.
“Anything else you’d like the jury to know?” Sinnis asked.
Mulligan, with anger flashing in his voice, shot back, “I’d like them to know she left because she couldn’t move up in the organization, because [O’Brien] knew she knew me.”
The bulk of Mullgan’s cross-examination focused on the hiring and promotion of court officers, which Mulligan controlled directly. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reported two years ago that the federal investigation that led to O’Brien’s indictment also took a run at politicized court officer hiring. Fred Wyshak, the lead federal prosecutor in the O’Brien case, said during a recent procedural hearing that the FBI had concluded there was nothing illegal about how court officers were hired and promoted under Mulligan. But attorneys for O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke have repeatedly argued that Mulligan’s office maintained lists of politically sponsored job candidates that are strikingly similar to the lists O’Brien’s office kept.
Sinnis grilled Mulligan about Mulligan’s decision to give a court officer job to Richard Musiol. Musiol’s son, Rick, was Senate President Therese Murray’s chief of staff. “Tell the jury why a 62-year old short-order cook who was the father of the chief of staff of the Senate president was most qualified,” Sinnis asked. Mulligan said he was impressed by the elder Musiol’s military service in Vietnam, and testified that he “found out today” Musiol was connected to the Senate president.
“They’re not the best qualifications I’ve seen,” Mulligan conceded.
Murray’s constituent services director, Francine Gannon, previously testified in the O’Brien trial about Musiol’s hiring. Gannon, whom prosecutors used to show the Legislature’s influence over Probation patronage, said she worked with Mulligan’s legislative liaison to secure a court officer job for Musiol. Gannon testified she didn’t treat requests for Probation jobs any differently than she treated job requests for other state departments.
Sinnis also questioned Mulligan about the 2004 hiring of a court officer named Marc Chiarenza, whose job application was faxed to Mulligan’s office by the then-Senate president, Robert Travaglini. “Why are you getting applications from the Senate president’s office?” Sinnis asked. “What possible role could the Senate president have in hiring court officers?”
“He can recommend people to be hired, just like anyone else can,” Mulligan replied.
Throughout his cross-examination Wednesday, Sinnis upbraided Mulligan for playing it loosely with departmental paperwork, job postings, and interviews – the same sorts of practices prosecutors have tried to hang around O’Brien’s neck as criminal acts. Sinnis said Chiarenza, who came to the Trial Court by way of Travaglini’s office, was later promoted without being interviewed. When he questioned why certain Trial Court employees were signing hiring documents, Mulligan conceded that he should have signed the documents personally. (The prosecution’s mail fraud case rests on documents O’Brien signed, and mailed, to Mulligan.) And Mulligan admitted to hiring his legislative liaison, Elizabeth Cerda, without publicly posting the job first. Cerda, who is the wife of Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, was hired on the same day she submitted her job application – a practice prosecutors used against O’Brien last week.Sinnis also questioned whether Mulligan was paying closer attention to O’Brien’s hires than he was to his own. Sinnis seized on Mulligan’s testimony Tuesday, in which Mulligan questioned how John Chisholm, who was sponsored by former Sen. Jack Hart, could go from having a disastrous job interview to becoming “a Probation savant, a Probation genius” a week later.
“You went on for 30 minutes about Mr. Chisholm’s answers, and their incompleteness,” Sinnis said. “You’re using that same level of scrutiny on court officers? Or do you have a lesser degree of scrutiny for court officers because they’re your people?”