Probation jurors go with their heads
Jurors went with their heads rather than their hearts in finding former Probation commissioner John O’Brien and two of his top aides guilty of mail fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy.
Their heads told them that a crime had been committed. O’Brien ran a rigged hiring system that was designed to steer politically connected job applicants through a seemingly rigorous interview process into positions at the Probation Department. The process looked good on paper, but it was controlled behind the scenes by O’Brien and clearly not designed to find the best candidate possible.
But their hearts told them that O’Brien and his colleagues weren’t criminal masterminds. They didn’t put any money in their pockets. They may have orchestrated the hiring process at the Probation Department, but that process was part of a much larger game on Beacon Hill. It was former House speaker Thomas Finneran who set in motion the entire scheme in 2001 by pushing through legislation that took hiring authority at Probation away from judges and gave it to O’Brien.
Could the jury send O’Brien and his Probation Department colleagues away for something that was much bigger than them? It turns out they could.
“Has this case been an intrusion of federal power into state political culture, and an assault on individuals who could not have been on fair notice that they were committing federal felonies by engaging in political favor exchanges older than the Republic itself?” they asked. “It’s an admitted difficult argument to get anyone to listen to in light of the ‘ick’ factor involved here, a reminder of the old aphorism that one should not observe how either sausages or laws are made. But to ignore it entirely is to turn a blind eye to the inability of the Department of Justice to distinguish true bribery and racketeering from regular political horse-trading.”
The Boston Globe, in an editorial, takes the opposite view. The paper said the convictions appear just. “The O’Brien verdict clarifies at least this much,” the editorial said. “Accepting a wad of cash while under video surveillance isn’t the only form of public corruption. And even in a system where high officials will cop to pushing friends and relatives into government jobs, there are limits to what’s legal.”
— BRUCE MOHL
Three top Probation Department officials were convicted on multiple corruptions charges in a case that has riveted the state’s political class, and put another stain on Beacon Hill’s golden dome. The Probation verdict casts a dark cloud over Beacon Hill, CommonWealth reports. House Speaker Robert DeLeo says the trial helped clear his name. US Attorney Carmen Ortiz claims victory in the case, but still doesn’t explain why no legislators were charged. The Herald reports that Laurie O’Brien reacted to the verdicts by shouting, “The government is corrupt!,” and then collapsing in the courtroom — a scene Peter Gelzinis calls “surreal.” Most lawmakers at the State House dodge inquiries about the verdict.
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