Probation listicles all the rage

Lawyers for embattled former Probation Department chief John O’Brien have long claimed that the federal racketeering case against the one-time Beacon Hill fixer represents an attempt to criminalize patronage. They’ve said O’Brien’s hiring of politically connected job-seekers doesn’t represent theft or bribery or criminal organizing. Instead, they’ve argued, it’s an extraordinarily common act, one that greases the gears of government agencies far beyond the reach of O’Brien’s old department.

Yesterday, O’Brien’s lawyers put some teeth into that argument, releasing documents that appear to show that employees of Robert Mulligan, the trial court head who helped push O’Brien out of office, maintained sponsor lists that look an awful lot like the documents at the heart of the US attorney’s case against O’Brien.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that O’Brien presided over a rigged hiring process that handed Probation jobs to under-qualified applicants who were connected to powerful Beacon Hill lawmakers. In return, prosecutors argue, O’Brien and his deputies received fattened budgets from the Legislature, and enjoyed political clout. US Attorney Carmen Ortiz has argued that this arrangement represents a scheme to defraud taxpayers, and a form of bribery.

O’Brien’s lawyers, on the other hand, have argued that O’Brien’s Probation Department played by the same patronage rules everyone else played by. It’s not bribery or racketeering to take care of someone a high-ranking senator wants taken care of, they’ve claimed; it’s something that every state department does.

Both the US attorney’s office and Paul Ware, the independent counsel the state Supreme Judicial Court retained to investigate hiring within Probation, have made much of the political sponsorship lists O’Brien’s department maintained. The lists detailed which job applicants came recommended by individual lawmakers. Ware’s report and the federal indictment against O’Brien both held up the sponsorship lists as evidence that jobs in Probation were tilted toward politically connected job candidates.

Yesterday, O’Brien’s lawyers submitted a sponsor list of their own — one from inside Mulligan’s trial court. The list detailed recommendations for plum court officer jobs that came to the trial court from state legislators, local officials, and a handful of judges. Prominent stars from the Ware report — including Senate President Therese Murray, Sen. Mark Montigny, Sen. Stephen Brewer, and former House Speaker Sal DiMasi — are well represented as sponsors of would-be court officers. But the court officer list also includes the likes of former US rep William Delahunt, Boston politicians Steve Murphy and Chuck Turner, and former state treasurer Shannon O’Brien. (O’Brien’s lawyers also now say they may call Ware — a former law partner of the federal judge presiding over the case — as a witness.)  

Federal prosecutors reportedly tried to broaden their Probation inquiry into court officer hiring last year. That effort did not yield any indictments.

O’Brien’s lawyers pointed to the existence of the court officer list, and the wide range of boldface names represented on it, as evidence that O’Brien’s own sponsor list was nothing special. They argued: “‘Sponsor lists’ were standard operating procedure in the Trial Court, not a nefarious Probation racketeering tool designed to ‘ensure that the sponsored candidates obtained employment’ to which they were not entitled, as the indictment alleges. Consideration of legislative recommendations, and weighing the relative power of legislators, was both an understood and accepted practice.” O’Brien’s trial begins late next month. It’s clear now that patronage on Beacon Hill will be under as much scrutiny as the former Probation chief will be.

–PAUL MCMORROW  

BEACON HILL

The heavy caseload of the Department of Children and Families does not excuse the failure to monitor the family of a missing 5-year-old boy from Fitchburg, a new state report finds. The report says the agency failed to make nearly 1 in 5 required monthly home visits to families in 2013.

Sens. Barry Finegold of Andover and Bruce Tarr of Gloucester say they intend to file legislation requiring juveniles convicted of first degree murder to serve a minimum of 35 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole, the Eagle-Tribune reports. The family of Danvers High teacher Colleen Ritzer, who was allegedly slain by a 15-year-old student, says the bill would go a long way toward righting an injustice. Many district attorneys support the bill, the Patriot Ledger reports.

The House Ethics Committee has summoned jailed state Rep. Carlos Henriquez to appear at the State House as lawmakers wrestle with figuring out a way to dislodge the disgraced Democrat from his Dorchesterseat if he won’t go quietly by resigning.  

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Former BRA director Peter Meade sought a legal opinion on whether his gig guest announcing for the Red Sox represented a conflict of interest, CommonWealth reports.

A meeting of selectmen from Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley to discuss governing of Devens breaks down in heated arguments, the Lowell Sun reports. CommonWealth’s Summer 2011 issue examined the tension between the towns over the former military base’s future.

CASINOS

The Bay State’s growing  anti-casino movement is pushing back against casinos developers’ claims that gaming will cure what ails struggling cities.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Another Obamacare fight looms in Washington, Time reports.

Paul Krugman yearns for a populist fight in Washington.

Virginia ’s new attorney general asks a federal court to invalidate the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

ELECTIONS

Republican Richard Tisei formally announces he will run against US Rep. John Tierney. Tisei will focus on Tierney’s legislative record, particularly his support for Obamacare, the Salem News reports.

A group of protesters, led by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, plan to conclude today a 185-mile walk across the length of New Hampshire to call for reform of a campaign finance system they say has utterly corrupted the workings of Congress. Lessig laid out the case a year ago in this Conversation interview in CommonWealth.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democratic candidate for governor, calls for raising the minimum wage to help address income inequality, WBUR reports.

Priorities USA , the largest pro-Obama super PAC in 2012, aligns itself with Hillary Clinton. Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, will become the PAC’s co-chairman. Meanwhile, the Atlantic crowns Sen. Rand Paul the 2016 GOP frontrunner.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Boston Public Market, the next big Boston thing the growing foodie wave, is moving closer to beginning construction, the Globe reports.

Paul Wahlberg , who with brothers Donnie and Mark owns Wahlburgers restaurant in Hingham — where the decor trades heavily on the brothers’ Dorchester roots — tells the Dorchester Reporter’s Bill Forry that they’d “love” to open a location in their native neighborhood if they could “find the right location.”

EDUCATION

A jump in the number of autistic students will cost the Worcester public schools an estimated $1.2 million, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Already under fire for its lavish payouts to former presidents, Brandeis University discloses millions more in compensation paid to former president Jehuda Reinharz.

HEALTH CARE

For the third year in a row, Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget seeks to shut down Taunton State Hospital, South Coast Today reports.

The CEO of South Shore Hospital, which is seeking to merge with Partners HealthCare, says he’ll retire next year, the Patriot Ledger reports.

TRANSPORTATION

Massport makes improvements at Worcester Regional Airport to improve visibility for pilots.

Trains from Danbury, Connecticut, to Pittsfield? The Berkshire Eagle says yes, please!

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

State officials approve a plan by Stop & Shop to turn food waste into energy for its distribution facility in Freetown using a process called anaerobic digestion, the Herald News reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Woburn man is arrested in Salem for sending police on a search after calling 911 and saying he was freezing to death near Route 1. The man watched from his hotel room as police and fire officials searched the area, the Item reports.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas says he is in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana.

MEDIA

Facebook fights back against Princeton with a report suggesting the prestigious university may be in danger of disappearing.